Turkish military and procurement officials, as well as equipment from a private manufacturer, have been negotiating with a South Korean company to recover a backlog-plagued schedule for the production of the country’s first indigenous next-generation main battle tank.
“This program has suffered long delays due to lack of access to significant components such as the engine, transmission and armor,” said a procurement official. “I am not in a position to give a date for the start of series production. All I know is that we are trying to move it forward. “
In 2019, the office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan listed Altay’s tank as part of the 2020 military inventory in a government document. In an October 2019 speech, Ethem Sancak, a senior shareholder in BMC, which makes the Altay, said the tank would be launched in 24 months.
Now it seems that the prediction was too optimistic. The presidential office’s investment program for 2021, released earlier this month, does not even mention the Altay, much less the tank that will enter service.
According to a source with knowledge of the Altay program, BMC has been in talks with Hyundai Rotem to resolve issues related to lost foreign technology for the Altay, which Turkish officials often portray as an entirely domestic and domestic Turkish tank. The South Korean company previously built Bosphorus crossing and public transportation systems in Istanbul, Ankara and Adana, as well as light rail systems in Istanbul and Izmir.
“We hope that our conversations will eventually solve the problems related to the power source – [el motor y la transmisión – que] we will use in the series production cycle, ”said the source. “We are probably talking about another couple of months of conversations before we know where we are going.”
He added that BMC is in indirect talks, through Hyundai Rotem, with two South Korean defense technology companies: engine maker Doosan and S&T Dynamics, which makes automatic transmissions.
“Ideally, a Doosan-S & T plant would feed the Altays if we could iron out the differences and the licensing issues,” he said.
South Korea has experienced similar problems with its K2 Black Panther tank mass production program. Its deployment by the army was delayed due to engine and transmission related problems.
The first 100 units were built with a 1,500 horsepower Doosan engine and an S&T Dynamics automatic transmission. Under a second contract, the tanks began to be delivered in late 2016. But after the S&T Dynamics transmission failed durability tests, the South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration announced that the second batch would have a “Hybrid” power package consisting of the locally developed engine and the German RENK transmission system.
“It remains to be seen how the Turks can make use of a proven engine and a failed transmission,” said a London-based Turkish expert.
Turkey had hoped to power the Altay with the German MTU engine and RENK transmission, but talks with German manufacturers in the past two years fell through due to a federal arms embargo on Turkey. Germany is one of several European governments that have limited exports to Turkey because of its involvement in the Syrian civil war.
A similar problem concerns Altay’s planned armor. Turkey expected the French armor solution to remain available after an initial batch of 40 units. But the recent political tension between the two countries over hydrocarbon exploration off Cyprus has put this in jeopardy.
The source with knowledge of the Altay program said the shield will be produced locally under a public-private partnership.
Altay’s program dates back to the mid-1990s, but it wasn’t until November 2018 that the Turkish government awarded the multi-million dollar tank contract to BMC. In a competition, the company defeated Otokar, who had already produced four Altay prototypes under a government contract.
The contract involves the production of an initial batch of 250 units, the logistical support during the life cycle and the establishment by the contractor of a technology center for tank systems and its operation. As part of the contract, BMC will design, develop and produce a tank with an unmanned fire control unit.
The contract says that Altay’s first tank will roll off the assembly line within 18 months. Opposition parties in parliament have criticized the government for the delays, but procurement officials say the 18-month clause will apply after production of the first unit begins.
Altay’s program is divided into two phases: T1 and T2. The T1 covers the first 250 units, and the T2 includes the advanced version of the tank. Turkey also plans to eventually produce 1,000 Altays, to be followed by an unmanned version.
The deal has proven to be politically controversial, particularly after the Erdogan administration leased a military-owned tank and turret factory by the Sea of Marmara free of charge to the BMC for a period of 25 years.
The move sparked cries of nepotism, as BMC shareholder Sancak was a high-ranking member of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party at the time.
Ozgur Eksi, an independent defense analyst questioned the choice to allocate a seaside factory for tank production. “In the event of war, the Altay factory could be an easy target for enemy fire,” he said. “This program could have been much better planned from a strategic point of view.”
However, Eksi added, “There is a political determination to put the Altays in the Army’s inventory. Sooner or later, production will start. “
Burak Ege Bekdil