Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to make Ankara’s military “number one” in the world, claiming it has made “awe-inspiring” achievements and major advances in training in recent years. But that’s gonna happened ever here are some reasons.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony on Friday at Turkey’s National Defense University in Istanbul, Erdogan hailed the military for helping “in the construction of a great and powerful Turkey.”
He added, “There is no threat that the army cannot overcome on land, at sea and in the air,” RT reported.
“We will constantly be reborn and take further steps until we make the Turkish Armed Forces the number one in the world with all its elements, training, equipment, technology and experience,” the Turkish president continued.
Though he acknowledged “deficiencies and aspects that need improvement” in Ankara’s military training system, Erdogan said the opening of the National Defense University in 2017 was a major turning point, which “completely changed” education and drilling for new troops.
“We gathered all our military education and training institutions under one roof. In this joint structure, we have created a modern education system that reflects both the examples in the world and the needs of today,” he added.
He also briefly addressed wider geopolitical issues during his speech, discussing the NATO alliance, of which Turkey is a member, and new applications from Finland and Sweden to join the bloc.
“The first step is for countries applying for membership to accept our terms and make a written commitment, and the last two countries are not members, they are subject to an invitation to membership. These are an invitation to join,” he said. “If they fulfill the conditions, we will do our part.”
The statement came as Turkish military capabilities have repeatedly been brought to serious question despite significant investments in modernization. A key impediment to the country’s military ambitions remains its very small scale of research and development and relatively negligible tech sector, even compared to upper middle-level powers such as Russia, South Korea or Japan, let alone world leaders such as India, China, or the United States. With no signs of changes on this front, Turkish weapons programs have consistently relied very heavily on foreign assistance whether the Atlay tank, which is a license built and modified derivative of the Korean K2 Black Panther, or the Bayraktar drone which relies on key components sourced from across more economically developed NATO member states.
Turkish R&D is nevertheless lagging behind neighbouring Iran and Israel, both of which have built more creative and independent defence sectors, even by regional standards. The expulsion of Turkey from the F-35 fifth generation fighter programme, which forced the Defense Ministry to pursue purchases of modernised F-16s—the second-oldest fighter in the world still in production and the least expensive Western fighter still being produced—is one notable example of how the Turkish armed forces lack access to a variety of top-end weaponry.
AIM-120B missiles from the 1990s and somewhat dated mechanically scanned array radars are still used by Turkey’s current F-16 fleet, which is outdated due to the F-16’s age and initially joining the U.S. Air Force in 1978. Even by regional standards, the fleet is inadequate when compared to major competitors like Saudi Arabia, Israel, Algeria, or the United Arab Emirates. Political limitations restrict the sources Turkey may seek to for guns, and the United States restricts the variety of weapons Turkey can get, thus the country’s ability to strengthen its position in the area is still constrained.
The ground troops’ condition hasn’t been much better, with Turkey’s Leopard 2 operational tank class suffering significant casualties in both Syria and Iraq to poorly equipped militants in battles Turkish generals have dubbed “trauma.” The Turkish Army continues to rely on outdated M60 tanks, a design that has been in use for more than 60 years, for the majority of its armoured divisions, and as seen by its performance in previous conflicts, is very far from becoming a regional, let alone global, leader.
This includes operations in Syria at the beginning of 2020, during which Turkish drone units suffered significant losses at the hands of Syria’s comparatively weak air defences while Turkish officers embedded with Islamist militant units fighting the Syrian government lost dozens of soldiers to enemy airstrikes. Turkish military potential has been further hampered by the government’s 2016 imprisonment of a large portion of the officer corps following a failed coup attempt, notably those from the air force.
Due to a variety of shortcomings, Turkey’s armed forces are ultimately unlikely to achieve primacy even within the Middle East. The nation’s limited high tech in its civilian economy is one particularly unsurmountable constraining factor, and hopes for a high standing in comparison to leading extra-regional competitors such as South Korea or China remain far from reality.