A new defense industry project to produce high-tech military tanks moves Turkey up to the ranks of a select group of nations that have the ability to design and manufacture combat tanks, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Thursday during the introduction of the prototype of Altay, the country's first main battle tank which will be produced by the end of 2015, Today's Zaman reported.
Speaking at a ceremony held to introduce the tank models manufactured by Otokar at the company's facilities in Sakarya province on Thursday, Erdoğan said, "If we remember the difficulties we faced in the past 100 years, from the War of Independence to World War I, the significance of the Altay tanks will be better understood."
Examining the combat vehicles, Erdoğan climbed on board one of the prototypes named Kaya, accompanied by Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel.
"I sincerely greet you all and want to express how proud I am to participate in such a ceremony that has such a significant meaning for our country, nation and defense industry," Erdoğan said in his speech. He thanked the Defense Ministry, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM) and Koç Holding's Otokar.
He recalled that the signing ceremony for Altay had been held on July 29, 2008, in what he called a "historic step" for Turkey's national defense industry. "We are all now witnessing the realization of that signature, of that decision we made on that day," he said.
Erdoğan said the Altay tank project will increase Turkey's international prestige and move Turkey up a league in the global defense industry.
Expressing satisfaction that Altay's production would be completed one or two years ahead of schedule, Erdoğan said, "We plan for Altay to enter into service in the army as soon as possible."
Altay, which is a prestigious project for Turkey, will also enable the country to locally produce high-tech components, while rendering Turkey one of the few countries in the world capable of producing its own battle tank, for which Turkey holds all the property rights.
Production of the first prototype of Turkey's first national main battle tank represents a major success in Turkey's efforts to meet the needs of the TSK locally. The Altay tanks, the serial production of which is expected to start in 2015, will be the most modern tank in the 60-ton category in the world. Thanks to its new-generation fire-control system, which was specifically developed for Altay, the tank will be able to strike even moving targets with a very high precision. In the first batch, 250 tanks are to be produced for the Turkish army.
Under the Altay tank project launched by the SSM, Otokar is working with nearly a 100 local subcontractors -- including two Turkish defense industry giants, Aselsan and Roketsan, and with South Korea's Hyundai Rotem, which provides the know-how for some crucial parts of the tank such as the 120 millimeter 55 caliber gun and the armor.
Under the project, which began in 2008, Aselsan will be producing the new-generation fire-control system and the command and control information system of the tank, while, with technology transfer from Rotem, the Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation (MKE) will develop the 120 millimeter gun, and Roketsan, the modular armor of the tank.
The tank will not only be highly protected against attacks thanks to its modular composite armor, but it will also be equipped with systems providing protection for its four occupants against chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear attacks. The first prototype of the tank has undergone tests for maneuvering capabilities while a second one will undergo firing tests in a couple of months. Otokar is due to produce two other prototypes next year, following which the production stage will begin. A total of $500 million has been assigned for the tank's design, qualification, testing and production of prototypes.
At the beginning, Germany's MTU will provide the diesel engine for Turkey's first national tank, but subsequently an engine developed by the SSM will be used in Altay, which is named after Gen. Fahrettin Altay who commanded the 5th Cavalry Corps in the Turkish War of Independence.
Also at the introduction ceremony was Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz.