At a time when many Western nations are moving to curb their defense spending, Turkey’s defense procurement programs remains in place and is even increasing. Some analysts question the wisdom of this policy, but procurement officials say Turkey’s strategic location makes it necessary to continuing acquiring conventional arms.
Although several Western nations, including the United States and Britain, are announcing cuts in defense spending, Turkey, a country with a relatively modest defense budget, is scheduled to boost such spending for the foreseeable future.
Turkey’s defense budget for 2010 is nearly $16 billion, roughly 1.8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Nearly $4 billion out of this amount goes to weapons procurement while the rest is being used for personnel, operations, logistics and maintenance expenses.
Part of Turkey’s defense procurement spending is devoted to systems mainly designed for asymmetric warfare, that is, the threat posed by members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The acquisition of unmanned aerial vehicles and mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles fall into this category and are of the highest priority.
But ironically, some of the much costlier items, including modern fighter aircraft, battle tanks and submarines, are classed as conventional weapons. As such, some defense analysts wonder if it is wise to spend huge amounts of money for such conventional warfare systems which probably will never be used in war.
Others, however, believe the procurements are necessary. “Turkey is located in the middle of some of the world’s most unstable areas, and I personally think that Turkey will continue to need strong defenses,” said one senior defense procurement official.
“For that reason, I expect our procurement spending to increase and not decrease in the foreseeable future. And don’t forget this: Most defense systems are not made for use in war; they more importantly serve a deterrent role, preventing wars,” said the official. “This is very important.”
Other Western countries looking at cuts
Former Aegean rivals Turkey and Greece earlier this year explored the ground for mutual defense spending cuts, but nothing much came out of the process.
Undergoing its worst financial crisis in history, Greece has announced that it is planning to sell one of the submarines it is buying from Germany. But most of the country’s other defense programs remain in place, mainly because outstanding Turkish-Greek disputes seem set to continue for the foreseeable future.
Other countries in NATO, however, are looking at reducing their spending. Under defense spending curbs proposed by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week, the United States should save some $100 billion over the next five years from base closures and the elimination of some Pentagon-related organizations. Gates is also seeking to lower the number of generals and admirals in the top brass.
Given that the Pentagon’s budget next year should be around $700 billion, including the spending for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the $100 billion to be saved over the next five years is rather small, but the measures are at least a start.
Britain’s new Conservative-led government also is pushing through a comprehensive defense review while many other European governments have frozen key decisions to buy weapons systems.
As a result Britain may reduce its number of Eurofighter air combat fighters, jointly made by its BAE Systems, the Italian Alenia and the European group EADS. London also may decide to decrease the number of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lighting II fighter jets being made by a U.S.-led consortium. Britain may also opt for one new aircraft carrier instead of two.
The German government is also working on a plan to considerably reduce its defense procurement spending, and the results are expected to emerge in the fall. France and Italy are similarly also mulling curbs in defense spending.
The largest item on Turkey’s shopping list over the next 10 years will be the planned purchase of 100 F-35 fighters. Several Turkish companies are members of the consortium led by the U.S. company Lockheed Martin making the F-35.
The cost of the aircraft, however, is constantly rising; last year, the 100 F-35s were believed to cost around $11 billion, but that figure is now estimated at over $13 billion. In addition, the rival Eurofighter Consortium is also seeking to sell at least 20 Eurofighter Typhoon jets.
Under a $500 million program, Turkey is preparing to build four prototypes of the country’s first indigenous battle tank, the Altay. When this phase is completed in 2015, a fresh contract will be awarded for the mass production of the tank and a first batch of 250 tanks may cost anywhere between $3 billion and $4 billion.
By roughly 2015, Turkey should begin to receive 50 T-129 attack helicopters being built under the leadership of the Turkish TAI- Italian&British AgustaWestland in a multibillion-dollar program.
Other large-scale programs call for the joint production with a foreign partner of hundreds of utility helicopters, the joint manufacture with Germany of four modern submarines, the purchase from local companies of thousands of armored vehicles and the indigenous design, development and production of frigates and corvettes.
“Given our spending schedules, we can say that our procurement expenses are expected to peak around 2015 and stay around there until 2020,” said the senior procurement official.
“But if at some point in the future, political and threat conditions allow for a reduction in procurement spending and if the government decides to do so, obviously we will obey,” the official said.
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