Turkish defense industry faces problem with engines and transmissions to power domestically produced planes and tanks

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Abdullah Bozkurt/Stockholm

Sanctions and export restrictions imposed on Turkey’s ambitious defense industry have weighed on the development of sophisticated military hardware, which suffers from a lack of locally produced components, especially engines and critical transmission systems.

In a recent interview with a Turkish TV channel on September 4, İsmail Demir, head of the Defense Industry Presidency (Savunma Sanayii Baskanligi, SSB), Turkey’s main defense procurement agency, admitted that the agency had encountered difficulties in developing power supplies, including engines and transmissions for various defense projects.

It’s not just parts, but also the shortage of skilled engineers that are hampering progress, he said.

“The engine problem is known [problem]. In terms of trained staff and expertise, we also don’t have extensive experience. There is a limited number of experts [in Turkey]said Demir, who was sanctioned by the United States for Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 long-range missile system.

Turkey has a number of domestic aircraft and tank projects, but they have suffered a setback due to difficulty in finding engines and transmission systems to power such equipment. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has invested heavily in domestic engine manufacturing, with limited success so far in the testing and integration phases.

The country’s national fighter jet, the TF-X, does not have a locally developed turbofan engine, and the SSB is hoping to enlist help from British engine maker Rolls Royce, which has a joint venture with Turkish company Kale under the name TAEC. Although Turkey has experienced problems with Rolls Royce engine supply in the past and TAEC’s earlier experiments in launching engine production have failed, the Erdoğan government hopes that a new initiative will spur TAEC to respond. to a new tender for engine production which was announced by the SSB in July.

Demir said Turkey’s ultimate goal is to rely entirely on domestically produced electrical systems and that Tusaş Engine Industries (TUSAŞ Motor Sanayii A.Ş., TEI) and TRMotor, two engine manufacturers, s were striving to achieve this goal. The prime contractor for the development of a national fighter jet is Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), a state-owned company.

Turkey’s first native turbofan, TEI-TF6000.

President Erdoğan often brags that Turkey has its first national fighter jet in the air during election campaigns and criticizes the United States, a NATO ally, for not delivering the fighter jets that Turkey requests. since a while.

Another defense project, the development of a utility helicopter called Gökbey, also ran into problems developing a domestically produced engine. The prototypes were powered by a pair of LHTEC and CTS800 4-AT turboshaft engines manufactured by a joint venture between Rolls-Royce and Honeywell.

TEI worked on the development of an indigenous engine and eventually manufactured one called TS1400, but the testing and integration phases are not yet complete. In other words, Gökbey still doesn’t have a Turkish engine to power him, and it’s unclear when he will.

It also means more problems and delays in the supply of domestic engines for the Atak combat helicopters that Turkey produces, since the turbo engine of this type of helicopter requires additional capabilities and reliability in all weather conditions. For now, it uses the same imported engines as the Gökbey.

İsmail Demir, head of the defense industry presidency, said in an interview with a local TV channel in December 2021 that his agency had been working on undisclosed long-range missile projects for some time.

Tank power units are another problem facing the Turkish defense industry. After failing to manufacture engines and transmission systems for the locally developed Turkish Altay main battle tank, prime contractor BMC, which has a contract with the SSB to supply 250 Altay tanks to the Turkish army, turned to South Korea to supply Altay. The first power unit arrived in March this year and was integrated into the tank in May.

But Demir expressed skepticism about this power unit, saying the transmission is actually made in Germany and the South Koreans also failed to make an all-indigenous power unit to run it. their own national tanks. He said Turkey could not rely on foreign partners and would eventually finalize its plan to produce both the engine and the transmission system in the country.

The range of Erdoğan government’s problems with the West, especially with the United States, has grown in recent years since Turkey has developed closer ties with Russia, China and Iran and has undermined Western sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Anti-Western rants and anti-NATO remarks have become commonplace for Turkish officials, negatively impacting Turkish perceptions of the West.

Gökbey, a utility helicopter developed by Turkey.

In December 2020, the United States sanctioned the SSB and its senior officials for the purchase of S-400 long-range missiles, a deal worth $2.5 billion, from Rosoboronexport (ROE), Russia’s main arms exporter. The United States said Turkey deliberately engaged in a major transaction with Russia and was therefore subject to sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

As part of the sanctions, the United States named Demir and three other SSB officials: Faruk Yiğit, vice president of the SSB; Serhat Gençoglu, head of the air defense and space department of the SSB; and Mustafa Alper Deniz, program manager for the SSB Regional Air Defense Systems Directorate. Turkey had previously been removed from the global F-35 Joint Strike Fighter consortium in which the Erdoğan government had invested $1.4 billion and expected to generate $11 billion in export revenue.

Sanctions against the SSB prohibit granting loans, credits and U.S. export licenses and authorizations for any goods or technology transferred to the Turkish entity, as well as loans or credits from U.S. financial institutions totaling more than $10 million over a 12 month period. The US government would also oppose any third-party engagement with the SSB and attempt to block any loans that might be made to the SSB by international financial institutions.

The United States began applying sanctions against the SSB in April 2021, while President Erdoğan and SSB chairman Demir brushed them off, saying the restrictions would motivate Turkey’s military and defense industry to produce more national arms and defense equipment and to export more equipment worldwide.

Several other NATO allies such as Canada and Germany have also applied restrictions and in some cases sanctions on the export of defense products to Turkey.

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