BEIRUT — With increased demand and amid ongoing conflicts, the Turkish defense industry experienced a jump across the board in 2022, leading the way with land systems as well as unmanned aerial vehicles exports.

In the latest sign of the demand for perhaps the nation’s most high-profile export, the TB2 Bayraktar UAV, this week a Ukrainian official announced the Turkish firm was constructing a factory in Ukraine to produce the drones.

The interest from foreign buyers comes at a key time for Ankara, according to Caglar Kurc, a defense analyst and professor at Abdullah Gül University.

“The sustainability of the Turkish defense industry is highly depended on exports. The Turkish defense market is not big enough to sustain the growing industry, especially during the economic and financial crisis that Turkey has experienced,” Kurc told Breaking Defense.

The Turkish defense and aerospace industry sector reached a $12.2 billion in revenue in 2022, a 20.05 percent increase from 2021, according to a report issued last month by the Defense and Aerospace Industry Manufacturers Association (SASAD). Although local defense orders remained similar to 2021, revenues from exports increased 36.32 percent, from $3.2 billion to $4.4 billion.

The report highlights an increase in all defense areas, with research and development (R&D) investments increased to $2.1 billion from $1.6 billion, a 25.72 percent increase.

“Exports are critical to the Turkish defense industry as they provide a source of revenue, boost the domestic economy, and help [Turkey] establish itself as a global player in the defense sector. The increasing turnover and revenues are important indicators that [Turkey’s] defense industry is on the right track and will continue to grow in the near future,” said Ali Bakir, non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative.

He added that Turkey has found a niche in several areas in the export market, such as armored vehicles and drones.

“Turkish drones, like the Bayraktar TB2, have been used successfully in several conflicts, including in Syria, Libya, NK [Nagorno-Karabakh], Ethiopia, and Ukraine, which has raised the profile of Turkish drone technology,” Bakeer said. “Turkish defense producers are targeting new markets in Africa, South East Asia, and Europe besides the typical customers in the Middle East, America, and Europe.”

Surprisingly, land systems, and not UAVs, took lead in the Turkish defense exports. According to SASAD, the total value of exports amounted to $4.4 billion, divided as follows:

  • Land exports: $835 million
  • Sea exports: $561 million
  • Air (military) exports: $546 million
  • Weapons, Ammunition and Missile exports: $ 534.86 million
  • Security exports: $65 million
  • MRO exports: $86 million
  • Other exports: $371 million

Kurc said that selling land systems “is easier because they need little to no infrastructural investments, [and are] easy to train [on] and use. Though on the other hand, the market for land systems is highly competitive.”

He said foreign customers might especially be interested in Turkish land systems because they’ve been combat-proven, but also because Turkish firms are “more willing” to co-produce and co-develop land systems with partner nations. Turkish land systems are reportedly exported to more than a dozen countries.

Among the know importers of the land systems: Azerbaijan, Hungary, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Gambia, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Oman, Philippines, Georgia, Libya, Qatar, Indonesia and Somalia. There are many land systems producers in Turkey, including BMC, FNSS Savunma, Otokar, Nurol Makina, and Katmercile.

“The best example is Kaplan MT or Harimau Medium weight tank, jointly developed by [Turkey’s] FNSS and [Indonesia’s] PT Pindad. Turkey’s increased engagement in Africa, one of the main export markets of Turkey, also explains the overall increase,” Kurc told Breaking Defense.

Bakeer added that land platforms also face fewer export restrictions, compared to, say, drones.

“Although the land platforms enjoy good reputation, they are less sensitive in terms of technology, and there is high demand on them from different countries,” he said.

In a statement, the president of Turkish defense industry, Ismail Demir, said his country “will continue to build the Turkish defense industry in line with Turkey’s vision of global power by continuing to strengthen the high-capability industrial infrastructure, support design and development activities, and be a pioneer in domestic and national production.”

With The Flow

Turkish defense exports may be especially growing, but amid the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and Sudan, there is a trend of increased military exports worldwide.

“Turkey is not the only country to have experienced significant jumps in defense exports. Other middle-rank defense equipment suppliers like Israel and South Korea have in fact increased their defense exports by even larger margins recently,” military and security studies analyst and associate professor at Izmir University of Economics in Turkey, Sitki Egeli, told Breaking Defense.

Egeli said that defense expenditures are picking up globally, to a peak not seen since the end of the Cold War.

“The war in Ukraine, as well as rapidly deteriorating security situation in Africa, MENA [Middle East, North Africa], and even Central Asia are unfortunately fueling demand for various categories of defense equipment. Middle layer suppliers like Turkey, South Korea and Israel with more speed and flexibility than traditional suppliers, and with much less political strings attached to their defense exports, are rapidly and successfully picking up the slack,” he concluded.

Earlier, visiting the International Defence Industry Fair, IDEF, that is held in Istanbul, one couldn’t but recognize the size of the land systems and armored vehicles market and development in Turkey. IDEF 2023 is set to take place later this month, so it remains to be seen if land systems will again reign, or if UAVs take the spotlight.