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As far as I recall, Turkey was mostly dependent on the USA and Israel for its defense needs until recently. Turkey sought Israeli assistance to modernize its large fleet of F-4 Phantoms and bought Popeye missiles and IAI Herons. Turkish F-16s and other defense equipment used hundreds of Israeli components.

The situation started to rapidly change when Erdogan came to power back in 2010s. After the Ahmed Oguz Celikkol incident, Turkey virtually snapped its defense relationship with Israel and started to go ahead with its own defense industry. Then gradually we saw the production of the Anka UAV, MITUP Altay, T129 ATAK, MILGEM project, and so on.

Within a few years, dozens of Turkish companies are in the international defense market, names that we never saw in newspapers before. Turkish firms are stealing the show in international defense exhibitions. Turkish firms are competing for an Indonesian submarine contract and a Polish attack helicopter contract, developing jet fighters, selling avionics, and so on.

So, my questions are,

  • How did Turkey manage to springboard its defense industry so fast?
  • If Turkey was able to do so, what have other NATO countries (like Poland, the Czech Republic, and so on) been doing?
  • Finally, how is the defense industry able to maintain its growth even though Erdogan conducted a massive purge in the country?

Update: Turkey has undertaken or even succeeded in some critical projects which considered very tough even according to western standards.

For instance, Turkey has started a project on jet engine development which is considered one of the most sophisticated technologies in the world. Only a handful of countries in the world has succeeded in mass-producing jet engines.

Previously, Turkey developed helicopter engines and put them into mass production.

Turkey recently announced that they will field their own long-range air defense system (similar to S-400) in a few years.

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    Springboard for someone else to answer, Erdogans 2016 constitution rewrite gave him far more oversight over the defense industry, and as compared to 2015 numbers military spending has shot up about 30% (probably more since this data was released) tradingeconomics.com/turkey/military-expenditure – Gramatik Jun 21 '18 at 17:24
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I think a lot of it might be down to perception. It didn't happen overnight and Turkey is not the only country doing it. Ukraine has a large defense industry, Korea has been growing its own, Brazil is expanding and even Israel can in fact be compared to these countries as a (relatively) new entrant trying to substitute imports and make inroads with low-cost alternatives to US or Western European products.

One way Turkey has been able to expand its domestic industry is by including local production and technology transfers in deals with exporters from more established countries. They are not the only country trying that, it's par for the course nowadays, but I would guess that they are large enough and close enough to the West (until now at least) to have had more success with this than some others (e.g. in the Middle East). Negotiation around this are always a big part of any arms deal.

Some of the examples you cite are cases in point: UAVs are new(ish) but the combat helicopter and littoral ship programmed did not appear out of nowhere in the 2010s. They were negotiated in the late 1990s, early 2000s and rely on foreign technology and know-how. The attack helicopter is based on an AgustaWestland design. The Ada-class ships were designed locally but follow a string of technology transfer programmes with ships bought abroad but produced or modernised in Turkey with the assistance of the original maker of the ship.

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    Even the drones use commoditized parts produced elsewhere; see scandal with the Canadian optics. cbc.ca/news/politics/… – Fizz Feb 20 at 16:59
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Fall of the Ottoman empire

It is not something that suddenly happened overnight and has been a long time in the making.

From the fall of the Ottoman empire when Turkey completely lacked any defense industry infrastructure whatsoever.

Defense industry of Turkey, General, Wikipedia

Thus, no significant defense industry infrastructure was present during the first years of the Republic and activities in this domain were limited to the establishment of new facilities near Ankara during the Turkish War of Independence.

Local defense industry

To the small scale local defense industries up until 1950.

1923-1950 Wikipedia

Machinery, craftsmen and workmen transferred discreetly from Istanbul and its surroundings at the end of the First World War played a crucial role in winning the War of Independence. Small scale and simple workshops in Ankara, Konya, Eskişehir, Keskin and Erzurum not only provided light weapons and ammunition but also lay the foundation for a sound local defence industry infrastructure.

Foreign aid

Then to an over-reliance on foreign aid between 1950 and 1960 which slowed down their development.

1950-1960 Wikipedia

Instead of improving the local defence industry, foreign aid and foreign procurement were practiced during this period. Because of the Cold War and military and political polarization after the 2nd World War, Turkey met its defence requirements through and in the framework of the NATO.

Within the impact of the increasing foreign aid in the post-IInd World War period, efforts for the development of local defence industry slowed down; orders of the Turkish Armed Forces from the local suppliers decreased, thus military facilities became a part of the Machinery and Chemical Industry Corporation (MKEK) which was formed as a State Economic Enterprise on 15 March 1950.

Over dependence

To the realisation of the downside of foreign aid between 1960 and 1970, and the negative effects of over dependence fuelling the need for a national defense industry.

1960-1970 Wikipedia

It was a period regional conflicts and the Cyprus issue. Cyprus crises in 1963 and 1967 and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the arms embargo imposed on Turkey as a result of this invasion proved the need for a national defence industry. During the crises, Turkey was face with the difficulty of dependence on foreign supply. The deadlock experienced in this period caused to seek ways to reactivate national defence industry.

National defense industry

Then between 1970 and 1980 plans got underway for this national defense industry, and foundations and enterprises were established.

1970-1980 Wikipedia

1970s have been the period in which solid initiatives were put into force so as to establish a national defence industry. As a result of the national reaction to the arms embargo against Turkey, Armed Forces Foundation were established.

The PODI

Then, between 1980 and 1985, the formation of the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries.

1980-1985 Wikipedia

The first step in this direction was taken by the establishment of defence equipment Directorate as a state enterprise. However, the shortcomings stemming from its state-bound status prevented the success and all the properties of that enterprise were transferred to the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM) which was established in 1985 under the Law No: 3238

Presidency of Defense Industries

The Presidency of Defense Industries was set up in 1985, to build the projects, foundations, enterprises and business that we see today.

Presidency of Defense industries Wikipedia

The Presidency has close relations with the Office of the President of Turkey, the Ministry of National Defense and the Turkish Armed Forces, as well as domestic and foreign defense industry companies. In addition to supporting projects and products based on domestic design and production, SSB gives importance to technological transfer of products and services acquired from foreign suppliers.

Today

Today, all the achievements are very much down to the work of the PODI since its creation.

Todays Turkish defense industry, Wikipedia

Over the last 21 years since its establishment, and as a result of dedicated efforts, the Presidency of Defense Industries (formerly Undersecretariat for Defence Industries) has made real achievements in the creation of a modern national defence infrastructure in Turkey, with highly successful results in certain vital areas. Key defence industrial institutions have been established to meet the requirements of the Turkish Armed Forces through local sources, each of which fill an important gap in their scope of activity.

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