Visitors view a TAI/AgustaWestland T129 ATAK attack helicopter on display at the Turkish Aerospace stand during the Naval Defence and Maritime Security Exhibition (NAVDEX), part of the wider International Defence Exhibtion (IDEX) at the Abu Dhabi International Exhibition Centre on February 20, 2023. (Photo by Ryan LIM / AFP) (Photo by RYAN LIM/AFP via Getty Images)

Economic arsenals: the Middle East’s rise as a global defense industry hub

June 2023 Al-Monitor PRO Trend Report 

3796 words



As Turkey’s momentous and contentious presidential election entered its final stages, it was hard to ignore the prominent role that drones, howitzers and a shiny new amphibious assault ship played in the campaign. That is, key to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s stump was highlighting homegrown defense products — both as a projection of Turkish power and industrial prowess. The sector enjoyed record exports worth $4.4 billion in 2022, a bright spot amid Turkey’s otherwise gloomy economic situation

That tactic helped Erdogan secure reelection and underlined Turkey’s emergence as a weapons-manufacturing powerhouse. That industry rise began almost 50 years ago, according to David DesRoches, a professor at the National Defense University in Washington DC, when Turkey — in the name of national sovereignty — embarked on an economically inefficient program to attain self-reliance in areas including weapons production. That’s now paying off for Ankara, but more importantly it’s also serving as a template for regional neighbors to emulate and improve upon. “Gulf states have an opportunity to partially replicate this, mostly because the nature of weapons design has shifted from large factories bending metal towards software, which can be developed as a national competency relatively quickly,” DesRoches tells Al-Monitor.

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