When fighter aircraft from NATO-member Turkish and Chinese air forces conducted their first joint air exercises in Turkish airspace in September 2010, few people guessed that could be the beginning of a broader defense and security relationship. Four years later, the big three in Asia are on a determined course to replace some of Turkey’s traditional ties with NATO allies.
The breakthrough came from South Korea in 2001 when Turkey signed a $1 billion contract for the acquisition of the T-155 self-propelled howitzer. Six years later, the Korean aerospace powerhouse KAI won a nearly $500 million Turkish contract to sell a batch of KT-1 basic trainer aircraft, followed by a few years of silence. But presently they are seeking ways to find a slot in Turkey’s indigenous fighter jet program, the TFX. If they do, that will automatically reserve them a seat in the TX, a parallel program designed to develop trainer aircraft for the TFX.
In recent months, Japan, despite its pacifist constitution, came into the picture. Since the mid-1990s, Turkey has been looking for a suitable engine for the Altay, a new generation battle tank the Turks have been developing over the past several years; and, luckily, Japan announced in 2008 that it would manufacture its own tank — and an engine to power it — to protect its homeland against a North Korean invasion. Ironically, the technical support contract under the Altay program had gone to another Asian player, South Korea’s Hyundai Rotem. Turkey and Japan are now in declared talks, with the end goal that Japan shares its engine technology to power the Altay under a “joint development” program.