The deaths of 25 soldiers in the Afyon explosion have once again placed the training of the Turkish Armed Forces back on the agenda. The deterrence power of the army, more than 700,000 strong, is being debated vigorously alongside the crisis with Syria. About 470,000 of its members are not career soldiers and a major part of the military budget goes to meet their needs.
A big army requires big money. Turkey’s military expenditures are not subject to state audits and are kept secret from civil society. According to 2010 figures from SIPRI [Stockholm International Peace Research Institute], Turkey spends 2.4 % of its gross national product [about $18 billion] on its military. That number puts it among the countries that spend the most on their militaries.
While countries like the US, Israel and Russia also spend much on their military, they are able to recover some of that thanks to their military industries. But Turkey spends most of its budget on personnel expenses of about 40,000 officers, 100,000 non-commissioned officers, 65,000 gendarme/army specialist soldiers, 8,000 reserve officers and 470,000 soldiers doing their compulsory military service. The army also employs 50,000 civilian workers.
When the number of soldiers dying is unlimited
The army is trying to make up for its technology deficit with unlimited manpower. Secure outposts that were to be built by government agencies are dragging on, and makeshift outposts situated at the wrong locations lead to higher casualties in the attacks of [the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)].
In 2008, a decision was made to build 243 new fortified outposts but today only 100 have been completed. One main reason why the soldiers in attacked outposts have to be on the defensive for a long time without getting any support is the 20-year delay in concluding the tenders for attack helicopters.
After 12 years of research, the Defense Industry Executive Council decided in 2007 to award the Turkish attack helicopter project to Italian Augusta/Westland company. Since then the production schedule of these “locally-made” helicopters, which will be built with Italian technology and Rolls-Royce/Honeywell engines, is constantly being revised.
Basing Turkey’s defense concept on the human element instead of technology creates weaknesses in intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance. While there many [drone] projects being developed, Turkey still uses only the Israeli-made Herons. Our weakness in intelligence is compounded by our dependence on software produced elsewhere and by an absence of any locally-produced technology in service.
This deficiency became obvious in the killing of 34 civilians at Uludere and in still not knowing what happened to our plane that crashed into the sea on 22 June. The Syrian crisis has also demonstrated Turkey doesn't have any high-altitude air defense systems and has many deficiencies even when compared with countries labeled as “weak.”
We are not really born as soldiers
According to official figures, 2,221 Turkish soldiers have committed suicide in the last 21 years. A further 1,602 people have died while trying to devise a medical reason to evade military service. There are claims that the actual numbers are much higher.