Spotlight: EU's arms ban may benefit Turkey's defense industry: experts

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, October 18, 2019
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ANKARA, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) -- The EU's decision to halt arms sales to Turkey over its ongoing military operation in northeastern Syrian is a concern but may also prove to be a blessing for the development of the NATO nation's defense industry, experts said.

On Monday, the European bloc condemned the Turkish military incursion launched last week to wipe out a Syrian Kurdish faction, which was labelled as a terrorist organization by Ankara, and establish a safe zone in the region to resettle millions of Syrian refugees.

Italy, the top arms exporter to Turkey in 2018, said it would join the ban after decisions made by France and Germany over the weekend to suspend their arms sales to Turkey.

With other European countries including the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden halting such exports, the EU's collective position, with the exception of Britain, was aimed at avoiding a legally binding embargo on Turkey, a longtime candidate to join the bloc.

According to EU data, European states issued licenses for 3.08 billion U.S. dollars of arms sales to Turkey in 2017.

Spain was in the lead with licenses of almost 1.1 billion dollars for aircraft equipment sales, followed by France which issued permits worth 810 million dollars for mostly military vehicles and electronics and Italy with 290 million dollars of mainly small arms and ammunition.

Germany, for its part, exported 268 million dollars' worth of arms to Turkey in 2018, accounting for almost a third of its weapons exports, according to the German press.

However, the Turkish envoy to the United Nations in Geneva Sadik Arslan said the ban will not "kill Turkey" as his country has a strong industrial base to provide alternatives that are "much better."

Ozgur Eksi, a military expert and editor-in-chief of the defense industry magazine C4, argued that limited arms sales to Turkey, which has NATO's second largest army, would be a "concern."

There are raw materials and by-products that the Turkish defense industry needs. The lack of the materials will inevitably affect Turkey's military requirement, he told Xinhua.

The expert disagreed with statements by the Turkish government that the country is capable of producing and meeting almost 70 percent of all military demands.

But the domestic industry could benefit from this ban by increasing the rate of domestic input in arms and military equipment, he added.

Eksi remarked that in order to keep its armies functioning effectively, Turkey could further turn to Russia which has sold S-400 missile systems to Ankara despite U.S. opposition which led to Turkey's removal from the F-35 fighter jet project.

Nevertheless, there is a strong feeling among defense officials and experts that now with the arms bans, Turkey will be forced to invest more in national research and development activities as it did after the Turkish military intervention in Cyprus in 1974.

The Turks have not forgotten a U.S. congressional embargo which took effect after Turkey's military operation and lasted until 1978. The U.S. ban, which halted the delivery of weapons Turkey had pre-paid for, led to the birth of the indigenous defense industry.

Over the past several years, Turkey has made an effort to build up a domestic defense industry, which has resulted in some real improvements in capacity and growing exports including small frigates, helicopters and drones.

According to international figures, military spending in Turkey increased by 24 percent in 2018 to reach 19 billion dollars.

"The (EU) ban will certainly affect Turkey's needs but the impact will be limited ... There will be no major problems as we will seek alternative providers as we did in the past," a Turkish security source, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Xinhua.

"The ongoing operation should remain unaffected by the European decision because the Defense Ministry was keen to maximize domestic products used by our troops in Syria, like in the two previous operations" conducted since 2016, the source added. Enditem

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