Gulf a growing marketplace for Turkiye’s defense industry


Gulf a growing marketplace for Turkiye’s defense industry

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Cooperation in the defense realm has become one of the most progressive areas in the Turkiye-Gulf rapprochement. The GCC states have started to become a new marketplace for Turkish defense firms. Turkiye’s share in the Gulf’s defense industry procurement is still small when compared to the Western defense exporters, but the latest deals and mutual visits between Turkish and Gulf officials have political significance.

On Wednesday, the Kuwait Defense Ministry and Turkish firm Baykar signed a contract worth $370 million to export Bayraktar TB2 drones to the Gulf country. Baykar, which had been in talks with the Kuwaitis since 2019, won the contract despite competition from significant firms in America, Europe and China. With Kuwait now on board, the number of countries to have signed contracts to buy Bayraktar TB2 drones has increased to 28. Kuwait is reported to be getting 18 TB2s in its deal.

Last year, Turkiye struck a $2 billion deal with the UAE to sell it 120 of the Bayraktar TB2s. Reuters later reported that 20 drones were delivered last year.

The Gulf interest in Bayraktar TB2 drones started with Qatar. In 2018, Baykar signed an agreement to export six armed unmanned aerial vehicles to Qatar's armed forces. The agreement was to deliver to Doha six TB2s, three ground control station systems and equipment, and a training simulator.

This was followed by Oman. It was announced in 2021 that the Omani and Turkish defense ministries had reached a preliminary understanding for Muscat’s procurement of Bayraktar TB2 drones. No numbers were disclosed.

The heavyweight of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, has also shown an interest in the Turkish defense industry. Last week, officials from Saudi Arabian Military Industries met with Turkish defense company BMC to discuss cooperating on advanced defense technologies and land defense systems. It was also reported last year that SAMI has expressed an interest in Turkish drones and is ready for talks with Baykar.

BMC became the first Turkish private sector defense company to be included in the Defense News “Top 100” list in 2019. With $533 million in defense revenues, the company ranked 85th on the list. It is among several companies from Turkiye, along with the likes of Aselsan, Baykar and HAVELSAN, that export defense products to Gulf countries.

The GCC nations consider the Turkish drones to be a significant force that could outperform Iranian drones

Sinem Cengiz

The meeting between SAMI and BMC officials came a few weeks after Saudi Assistant Minister of Defense Talal bin Abdullah Al-Otaibi’s official visit to Turkiye as the head of a high-level delegation involving several agencies. During the visit, Al-Otaibi met with a number of top Turkish officials, including Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. The meetings included discussions on the importance of defense cooperation between the two countries, activating the agreements signed in this field, and developing them to serve common interests and support the security and stability of the region. A briefing was also given to Al-Otaibi on the Turkish military industries and he later visited a number of companies affiliated with the Turkish Defense Ministry.

It is expected that Turkiye will cooperate more closely with the Gulf countries in the defense realm, with high-level visits particularly highlighting this aim. The nature of this defense cooperation is such that Gulf countries orient their defense relations on the basis of their respective national interests and regional strategies. However, the main reason for the Gulf countries wanting to acquire Turkish drones is to counter the growing security challenges from Iran and its proxy groups in the region. They consider the Turkish drones to be a significant force that could outperform Iranian drones.

According to data recently released by the Defense Industry Manufacturers Association, Turkiye’s defense and aerospace sales have increased tenfold over the last two decades. Sales in 2002 equated to about $1 billion, while in 2021 the country’s defense and aerospace sector sales reached $10.1 billion.

While the Gulf countries’ motivation is to enhance their defense capabilities, economics drive Ankara’s expanded drone sales to the GCC. The growing Gulf interest in the Turkish defense industry is a boost for Turkiye, which is trying to increase exports to help ease its economic problems. This equation forms the defense-economy nexus in Turkiye-Gulf relations.

• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkiye’s relations with the Middle East.

Twitter: @SinemCngz

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