Written by Colonel S. IVANOV, Leading Researcher, Center for International Security, IMEMO RAN. Originally published in Foreign Military Review 2021 #3, translated exclusively for SouthFront
Over the past decade, the Republic of Turkey has made significant progress in many areas and has become a powerful regional power. This was supported by its important geographical position at the junction of world communications of the Middle East, Asia and Europe, a transit country for hydrocarbons, successes in the scientific and technical field, the accelerated development of the national economy, agriculture, tourism, and infrastructure.
Turkey’s GDP reached the level of $ 1.508 billion by 2020, the population exceeded 86 million. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic and the global monetary and financial crisis had a negative impact on the socio-economic situation in Turkey, the exchange rate of the national currency, the lira, has fallen noticeably. But the country retains its military potential and continues to play an important role in the regional security system and economy.
In 2020, the republic’s state budget provided for much more funds for military spending than in previous years – 145 billion Turkish lira, which is about 13 percent of the entire budget. Taking into account the funds allocated to the defense industry and related corporations, the total defense spending amounted to 273 billion Turkish lira (As of 11/13/2020, the exchange rate of the Turkish lira against the US dollar was 0.1275.), That is, 25% … the country’s budget. Thus, the 2020 budget was set as the maximum amount ever allocated for military spending.
The Turkish authorities consider it a priority to develop the national armed forces as an instrument for implementing the country’s foreign policy under the slogans of neo-Ottomanism and Pan-Turkism. The ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party headed by R. Erdogan does not hide its intentions to restore Turkey’s influence over the entire space of the former Ottoman Empire and in the territories of compact residence of the Turkic peoples.
The construction of the Turkish Armed Forces is carried out in accordance with a long-term program for the period up to 2033 (adopted in 2013). Its goal is to create highly mobile armed forces equipped with the latest models of weapons and military equipment (WME), intended primarily for conducting combat operations in zones of regional conflicts. Already today, the Turkish Armed Forces in terms of number and combat strength are the second in NATO after the US Armed Forces. The number of armed forces is 355 thousand servicemen, of which 260 thousand are in the ground forces (Land Forces), 50 thousand in the Air Force, and 45 thousand in the Navy. During the war, the gendarmerie also becomes subordinate to the Ministry of Defense, and the coast guard units are included into the Navy. Due to these reinforcements and the deployment of reservists, the Turkish Armed Forces in wartime can number over 900 thousand.
The country’s military personnel have been growing since the failed coup d’état in 2016. After these events, 20,571 people were dismissed from the ranks of the Armed Forces, but thanks to the subsequent replenishment of personnel since that moment, the staff number of 487,368 people has been restored. Of this number, 448,901 are military personnel.
The order of service in the Turkish Armed Forces and the system of their recruitment are determined by the law on general call. Service in the country’s armed forces is compulsory for all male citizens between the ages of 20 and 41 who have no medical contraindications. Its term in all types of the Armed Forces is 15 months. A citizen of the republic can be released from service after depositing a sum of 16-17 thousand Turkish lira (8-8.5 thousand dollars) into the state budget. The registration and conscription of those liable for active military service, as well as the conduct of mobilization measures are the functions of the military mobilization departments. The number of the call contingent is about 300 thousand people annually.
Privates and sergeants of immediate military service after being transferred to the reserve during the year are in the reserve of the 1st stage, which is called “special call”, then they are transferred to the reserve of the 2nd (up to 41 years old) and 3rd (up to 60 years old) turn. The contingent of “special call” and the reservists of the subsequent stages, when mobilization is announced, are sent to replenish the existing ones, as well as to form new formations and units. The highest operational governing body of the Armed Forces is the General Staff, to which commanders of the Lands, Air Force and Navy are subordinate. The parliament (Majlis) has the authority to declare war, impose martial law or send Turkish troops outside the country.
The basis of the Turkish army is made up of ground forces, which can conduct combat operations in several strategic directions at once, participate in maintaining public order within the state and take part in peacekeeping operations in various formats.
Structurally, the ground forces are consolidated into four armies and a separate group of forces located in the northern part of Cyprus. They include nine corps, three mechanized and two infantry divisions, 39 separate brigades, two special-purpose regiments and five border regiments, a number of educational institutions and subunits.
The main tactical unit of the Turkish army is the brigade. In addition, the army includes army aviation: three helicopter regiments, one separate helicopter group and a regiment of attack helicopters. The Turkish leadership pays increased attention to the development and improvement of special operations forces (SOF), which, in the pre-war period and during the war, conduct reconnaissance and sabotage activities behind the enemy, give aircraft target designation and adjust artillery fire. In peacetime, they are used to conduct special operations, fight terrorism, drug trafficking and other types of criminal activity. When solving the assigned tasks, the SOF are able to act both independently and together with units of all types of the Armed Forces and the gendarmerie.
The Armed Forces of Turkey are armed with more than 3,500 tanks, 6,000 artillery pieces, mortars and MLRS, almost 4,000 various anti-tank weapons (2,400 anti-tank vehicles and 1,400 ATGMs). The number of armored combat vehicles reaches 5,000 units, aircraft and helicopters of the army aviation – 400 units.
Most of the tanks are obsolete. More than a third of Turkey’s entire tank fleet consists of the M48, an American medium tank developed back in the mid-1950s. Various modifications of another American M60 tank, which was adopted in the mid-1960s, are not too different from it. More modern is the German tank Leopard-1 (400 units), the only modern vehicle is Leopard-2 (more than 300 units).
Army aviation is equipped with AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, as well as a range of multipurpose helicopters. A new reconnaissance and attack helicopter T-129 “Attack” was adopted.
The military leadership plans to replace the outdated Leopard-1 and M60 tanks with their own Altai, as well as infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers with new models. The Armed Forces are also being equipped with new types of artillery and MLRS. To increase the mobility and security of the motorized infantry, armored combat vehicles “Cobra-2” and “Kale” have been developed.
The Turkish Air Force is deployed at 15 air bases throughout the country. They include several commands responsible for different areas of activity.
The combat command has almost three dozen squadrons of tactical aviation, UAVs and air defense; training aviation – six squadrons and several training centers that train personnel; transport – about 10 military units and military facilities.
Fighter-bomber aviation is represented by nine squadrons, there are also two tactical reconnaissance and one early warning radar (AWACS). Auxiliary tasks are solved by one squadron of tanker aircraft and one squadron of a search and rescue service. Air defense forces include up to 8-10 divisions.
The Air Force defends the country’s airspace and provides the transfer and fire support of small tactical groups in medium-intensity combat operations.
The basis of the combat aviation of the Turkish Air Force is made up of F-16C / D tactical fighters of several modifications. In total, there are more than 240 such aircraft, but only 158 are assigned to combat units. The rest are operated by training squadrons. The second type of combat aircraft is the F-4E, up to 48 units.
The work of combat aviation is supported by 4 AWACS Boeing 737 aircraft, 7 Boeing KC-135R transport and refueling aircraft and 1 C-160 with electronic warfare equipment. Reconnaissance tasks over land and sea are solved by 2 CASA CN-235 patrolmen. There is an order for 4 Bombardier Global 6000 aircraft in reconnaissance configuration.
The Turkish Air Force has a fairly well-developed military transport aviation. It is based on 41 CN-235 aircraft. There are also 16 C-130B / E aircraft. The delivery of A.400M transporters has been completed. The helicopter fleet of transport aviation is represented by UH-1H (57 units) and AS-332 “Super Puma” (21 units). In the near future, delivery of six Sikorsky T-70 helicopters, manufactured under an American license, is expected.
In units of the training command there is equipment of various types. The most massively represented are F-16C / D fighters (87 units). 68 T-38 Talon aircraft and 23 NF-5A / B aircraft remain in service. Korean KAI KT-1 and Italian SF.260 aircraft (40 and 35 units, respectively) play an important role in training. It is planned to update the fleet of training vehicles. For this, orders have been placed for the TAI Hürkuş aircraft of their own design and for the Pakistani MFI-17 Mushshak. TAI has already delivered the first machine of its assembly to the customer. The Turkish Air Force is actively developing the direction of unmanned aerial vehicles. It is armed with reconnaissance and shock UAVs: “Bayraktar mini” (up to 140 units), “Vestel Karael” and “Malazgirt” (10 units each) of Turkish production, as well as Israeli “Heron” (up to 10 units).
The drone UAV fleet includes about 100 Bayraktar TB2 products and more than 15-16 nationally developed Anka vehicles. The supply of such equipment continues. Similar Turkish drones are actively used in Syria, Libya and Azerbaijan.
The Air Force also has various air defense systems at its disposal. The main air defense system is the British “Rapier-2000” – 515 launchers with 86 formations. Remaining in service are the fairly old American air defense systems MIM-23 – 16 formations. The delivery of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems (AAMS) in the amount of 4 formations has been completed. Hundreds of anti-aircraft artillery systems, including those upgraded with the use of modern components, remain in service.
Ankara does not lose hope to overcome the disagreements with Washington caused by the purchase of S-400 air defense systems in the Russian Federation and to implement plans to equip tactical aviation with American F-35 fighters, as well as acquire American Patriot-type air defense systems.
The state-controlled Turkish defense company Roketsan has embarked on an ambitious program to produce the country’s first ground-to-ground laser-guided missile.
Since 2012, the Air Force has been operating the Göktürk-2 spacecraft designed for optical reconnaissance in several bands. In 2016, the second satellite, Göktürk-1, was launched. It solves the same tasks as its predecessor, but has higher performance. For several years now, the development of a promising radar reconnaissance satellite “Goktyurk-3” has been underway. The launch of this apparatus was repeatedly postponed and has not yet been implemented. Its commissioning should significantly increase the potential of the existing small space constellation.
Ankara assigns an important role to the naval forces in the event of military pressure on Cyprus, in disputes with Greece over the determination of borders in the Aegean Sea, as well as in conducting operations in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Libya and in the Black Sea area.
The Turkish Navy includes: 165 warships and boats (including 16 frigates, 10 corvettes, 16 patrol ships, 13 submarines, 11 minesweepers, 33 landing ships and boats, 18 missile boats and 33 patrol boats), 16 base patrol aircraft and 38 helicopters, as well as auxiliary fleet vessels: 13 tankers, 2 military transports (including the specialized Iskenderun), 3 rescue, 6 sea tugs and 3 oceanographic vessels.
The backbone of the surface combat fleet consists of 24 patrol ships, 16 frigates and 10 large multipurpose corvettes. Annually, one or two amphibious assault ships are introduced into the combat composition of the fleet, and in 2019 the first universal amphibious assault ship (UAWS) in Turkish history was launched.
UAWS “Anadolu” (standard displacement 27,500 tons) is built according to the project of the Spanish UAWS “Juan Carlos I” and has a universal amphibious landing platform capable of delivering and ensuring the functioning of an operational-tactical level command body, as well as a significant part of combat and support forces and resources (including army aviation) in a low-intensity conflict. The capabilities of the UAWS will be organically complemented by the potential of the Dimdeg, a multipurpose logistics vessel (displacement 22,000 tons), capable of accommodating a command post and a medical unit. Both units are slated for delivery to the fleet in 2021.
Thus, the Republic of Turkey today has modern armed forces capable of independently and in cooperation with NATO partners to conduct defensive and offensive operations in the Middle East and South Asian theater of operations. Diversification of weapons sources and the development of its own military industry enables the Turkish leadership to pursue a more independent foreign policy in line with the course of the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party, headed by President Erdogan.
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