Tunisia a big customer for Turkish military hardware


Five Turkish companies have sold Tunisia $150 million worth of military hardware in recent times, from unmanned aerial vehicles to armoured personnel carriers.

In late December, Ismail Demir, Chairperson of Turkey’s Defence Industries Presidency (SSB), said that “Our defence industry made significant exports to Tunisia in the last days of the year. Under the coordination of our Agency, five of our companies signed exports of 150 million dollars in total.”

This included Anka-S unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), Kirpi armoured personnel carriers from BMC, Ejder Yalcin armoured vehicles from Nurol Makina, assorted vehicles from Katmerciler such as tankers and tank transporters, and electro-optical systems from Aselsan.

In January 2020 it was reported that Tunisia had ordered nine 4×4 armoured vehicles from BMC – according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI’s) Arms Transfers Database, these were Vuran 4×4 vehicles.

Tunisia previously ordered 70 Ejder Yalcin armoured vehicles from Nurol Makina in 2016. In 2014 it ordered 100 Kirpi vehicles from Turkey with deliveries following shortly thereafter.

Also in January 2020, a deal for six Anka-S aircraft was finalized after a visit by Turkish President Recep Erdogan in December. The deal apparently covers three systems comprising two aircraft each and a ground control station worth some $80 million. It is Turkish Aerospace Industries’ first export order for the type.

The Anka-A first flew in 2010 and entered service with the Turkish military in 2014. The improved Anka-S entered service in 2017. It has a payload of 200 kg and can carry eight Cirit 70 mm rockets or four MAM-L guided missiles.

The Anka-S can be fitted with a variety of payloads including Aselsan SARPER radar, Star Safire 380-HDL forward-looking infrared and satellite communications link.

Turkish military products have been making their way to countries around the world of late, including Africa, with Kirpi vehicles in service in Libya and Somalia and Katmerciler vehicles in Uganda. Nurol Makina has found success in Senegal with its Ejder Yalcin. Otokar, meanwhile, has sold hundreds of vehicles across the continent over the years.

In December 2020 SIPRI listed Turkey as one of four emerging arms exporters along with Brazil, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These emerging suppliers tend to export weapons primarily to countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

“Turkey had a small arms industry when the USA, its main arms supplier, imposed an arms embargo in 1975–78. Following this embargo, Turkey introduced policies to develop its arms industries rapidly. Over the past decade, by far the main reason for the rapid expansion of the Turkish arms industry and its increasing technological capabilities has been an increase in internal demand for military equipment. This is well illustrated by the steep increase in reported sales of the Turkish defence and aviation industry, from $3.71 billion in 2010 (including $0.85 billion in exports) to $6.69 billion in 2017 (including $2.04 billion in exports). These sales figures include civilian aviation sales, but they form only a small share of the total (10 per cent in 2016),” SIPRI reported.
The Institute noted that the Turkish arms industry produces a wide array of weapons that have been partly or completely developed in Turkey, including most types of armoured vehicle; ships up to the size of frigates; all main types of artillery; ammunition and an increasing array of missiles; trainer aircraft and UAVs; and a variety of radars, sensors, electronic warfare systems and communication equipment.

However, the Turkish arms industry remains dependent on foreign technology. For example, it is developing a new tank, the Altay, and a combat aircraft, the TF-X, but both projects depend on Turkey being able to import key components (e.g. the engines) or the technology to produce them. The development of UAVs has been described as an indication of the development of the Turkish arms industry and even as a ‘military breakthrough’ for Turkey. However, these UAVs also depend on foreign components, such as their sensors and engines, SIPRI said.

“A major obstacle to achieving true independence in military supplies is that Turkey is not able to produce more complex weapon systems, such as combat aircraft and submarines, without foreign assistance.”

SIPRI noted that Turkey’s arms exports have rapidly increased since the early 2000s. Between 2010–14 and 2015–19 the volume of arms exported by Turkey increased by 86 per cent. Between 2015 and 2019 it ranked on average as the world’s 13th largest arms exporter, up from 19th between 2010 and 2014, and it accounted for 0.8 per cent of global arms exports. In 2010–19 it exported major arms to 28 countries, as well as Syrian rebels.

Turkey’s largest customers are almost all in Africa, Central and South Asia and the Middle East. Armoured vehicles accounted for 52 per cent of the volume of Turkish arms exports in 2010–19. This included relatively basic light armoured vehicles and rebuilt tracked armoured personnel carriers. It also included wheeled infantry fighting vehicles, which are the most advanced armoured vehicles that Turkey has exported to date. Ships accounted for 30 per cent of Turkish arms exports in 2010–19, including 14 smaller vessels for Turkmenistan and a large replenishment tanker for Pakistan, SIPRI reported.