Altay National Main Battle Tank of Turkey
The Altay National Main Battle Tank of Turkey is named after Army Gen. Fahrettin Altay, who commanded the Fifth Cavalry Corps during the Turkish War of Independence. The ALTAY Project started as the main contractor of OTOKAR, which was commissioned by the Presidency Defense Industry Directorate (SSB) for prototype production. The subsequent mass production tender was won by BMC and the mass production process is under the main contractor of BMC. With a unit cost of around $13.75 million, the Altay is one of the most expensive battle tanks.
In Ankara, the first contract for the manufacture of domestic Altay tanks was signed 09 November 2018. According to the head of the secretariat, Ismail Demir, the mass production of Altay tanks would allow the Turkish army to be less dependent on foreign supplies. In accordance with the contract, 250 tanks would be produced (weight - 60 tons, 120-mm smooth-bore gun, diesel engine power of the German company MTU - 1500 hp). Then their number is planned to increase to a thousand. The first Altay tank is expected to be produced, developed and tested in the 18th month. After the delivery of 40 pieces of Altai T1 tank from the 24th month, the delivery of 210 units of Altai T2 tanks would start from the 49th month. The project should take 20 years and cost the state budget 25-30 billion US dollars. After 2022, the installation of Turkish engines is planned.
The program encountered sigififcant delays in gaining access to components such as the engine, transmission and armor. In October 2019 Germany and France banned arms exports to Turkey over its assault against Kurdish YPG militia in Syria. “Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive... , the Federal Government will not issue any new permits for all military equipment that could be used by Turkey in Syria”, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said 12 October 2019. “In expectation of the end of this offensive, France has decided to suspend all plans to export to Turkey weapons that could be used in this offensive. This decision is with immediate effect,” a joint statement from the French foreign and defence ministries said.
Turkey planned to use the German MTU engine and RENK transmission, but these plans came to nought due to the German arms embargo on Turkey. and Turkey had hoped French armor would continue to be available following an initial batch of 40 units, but the subseqeunt units would use a local solution. By late 2020, BMC remained in talks with Hyundai Rotem to resolve the missing foreign technology. The Turkish engine manufacturer Tumosan terminated the contract with the Austrian company AVL List for technical support in the development of its own tank engine.
In August 2016, months after the prototypes were displayed, Turkey’s Defence Industries announced that Otokar’s tender bid to produce the tanks had been rejected. Instead, in April 2018, the $3.5-billion tender to build 250 Altay tanks went to BMC, when which was chosen over Otokar, and another defence firm, FSSN. BMC was granted government “super incentives,” including tax relief and subsidies on customs, export duties, energy bills and infrastructure costs.
The state also allocated a plot of land in Sakarya, in northwest Turkey, for the company to build its tank factory. Then came Erdogan’s decree granting 25-year operating rights, free of charge and without any competing bids, for the 1.804 million meter square military tank factory – a move that saved BMC the massive expense of constructing its own factory.
Turkey’s top Main Battle Tank (MBT) maintenance and modernization factory the 1st Main Maintenance Factory Directorate, also known as “Arifiye Tank Tracks Factory” in Arifiye, Adapazari had been included in the scope of privatization program for the 25 year operational period with a Presidential Decree (Decree No: 481) issued in the Official Gazette on December 21, 2018 as part of the ALTAY MBT Serial Production Project.
The decree requires the finalization of privatization of the factory until December 31, 2019. According to original plan, the 1st Main Maintenance Factory Directorate would be leased to BMC, a joint Turkish-Qatari venture that manufactures armored vehicles and Prime Contractor of the ALTAY MBT Serial Production Project, for a period of 25 years and Serial production activities would take place at this factory. Under the deal, BMC would make an initial investment of US$ 40 to US$ 50 Million to modernize the MBT assembly and production unit at the 1st Main Maintenance Factory Directorate. BMC plans to convert the military factory into a serial production unit for the ALTAY MBT, Turkey’s first indigenous, new-generation MBT.
Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony of the BMC’s Sakarya Karasu Factory, also known as the “BMC Production and Technology Base” on January 13, 2019 President Recep Tayyip ERDOGAN stressed that the decision about the 1st Main Maintenance Factory Directorate in Arifiye is not “privatization” but rather the transfer of management rights to BMC within certain conditions, periods, and restrictions. However, the Turkish Government’s decision to privatize and lease of the 1st Main Maintenance Factory Directorate operated under the MoND-controlled General Directorate of Military Factories (AFGM) to the private company BMC drew strong criticism in Turkish public opinion and in the end it was decided to transfer the 1st Main Maintenance Factory Directorate to ASFAT Inc.
According to the Turkish media, a transfer procedure should take place on August 21, 2019 and the workers’ wages would be paid by ASFAT Inc. as of September 14th. It is stated that ASFAT, which undertakes the transfer, would either directly rent the factory to BMC or would let BMC run it within certain conditions, periods, and restrictions. Since its purchase by Turkish and Qatari partners for US$ 360 Million following a tender held in early 2014, BMC has been working as part of the strategic partnership between Turkey and Qatar.
BMC was assigned as the Main Contractor upon the decree of the Defence Industry Executive Committee (DIEC, the highest decision-making body on defence procurement in Turkey) dated 29 March 2018 under the ALTAY Project Phase-II Serial Production Project. The contractual negotiations were launched in March 2018 with the company and were completed successfully. The contract valued at Euro 3,5 Billion was signed between the SSB and BMC on 9 November 2018. Under the Serial Production Phase, a total of 500 ALTAY MBTs were expected to be procured in two batches. The first batch of the ALTAY MBT Serial Production Phase, for which the contract was awarded, covers the production of a total of 251 ALTAY MBTs in three configurations. Of the 251 ALTAY MBTs under the contract, 40 would be in T1, 210 would be in T2 and 1 would be in T3 configuration. Under the Project, BMC would receive consultancy services from Rheinmetall. According to BMC, Rheinmetall’s consultancy would focus on various points being handled by their subcontractors, and which constitute the industrialization aspect of the Project.
Despite the fact that the ALTAY MBT Serial Production Contract valued at Euro 3.5 Billion signed with the SSB had not entered into effect, BMC already has launched its activities in a 5,000 m2 area at the 1st Main Maintenance Factory Directorate in Arifiye. According to the information we received from the representatives of BMC with whom we had the chance to interview during the IDEF ‘19 Fair, 100 professional BMC staff have been working on the ALTAY Project as of this April and this number is planned to be increased to 300 by the end of the year. Nearly 1,300 people are expected to be employed within the scope of the project during the Serial Production Phase with nearly 1,000 blue collar staff.
BMC signed a contract on the ALTAY MBT Power Pack with the SSB on June 13, 2018. The name BATU was given to the ALTAY MBT Power Pack to incorporate a diesel engine and automatic transmission that would be developed by BMC Power.
In his speech at the TBMM Plan and Budget Committee on 27 November 2020, Vice President Fuat Oktay reminded that the serial production contract for the Altay tank was signed between the Defense Industry Presidency and the BMC firm on 9 November 2018; He stated that sub-system supply contracts were signed between BMC and German companies MTU and RENK for the supply of the power group, engine and transmission. In the continuation of Oktay's statement, “The application has been made for the purpose of obtaining approval for the export licenses of the German authorities for government permits. The German authorities are still trying to get a response to these permits" he said.
Turkish Presidency Defense Industry President Prof. Dr. Ismail Demir emphasized that the production of 5 Altay tanks was started with the previously supplied engines and that the production of the Altay main battle tank was started in the interview he gave to the M6 Magazine and said, “We can not say 6 for it because you will put all the spare engines in the tank, but it is only 4 or It could be 5, something like that started. One might ask, why wasn't something like that started before. If you are going to start establishing a production facility now, you have to determine a process so that I have produced 5 units and waited for 3 years. " he had made statements.
The 3rd+ Generation ALTAY MBT also was proposed for the Royal Army of Oman (RAO)’s Modern Main Battle Tank (MBT) tender covering the procurement of 77 tanks by Otokar. The company submitted its proposal at the end of the year 2014 within the scope of the procurement program that was initiated in August 2013. The ALTAY MBT’s PV-2 prototype participated the field tests (mobility and firing tests) executed in Oman in July – August 2018. As part of the tests, 150 live firings were executed against fixed and mobile targets with the ALTAY PV2 MBT and a 4,500km distance was covered in desert conditions. ALTAY MBT displayed successful performance in the tests that were conducted in Oman. In the tender, ALTAY MBT’s most serious competitor was the German Leopard 2A7 MBT. During the 10th Ambassadors Conference held by the SSB on 16 August 2018, President of Defence Industries Prof. Ismail DEMIR declared that one of the ALTAY prototypes succeeded in the field tests by an undisclosed country (Oman) and he said that the countries to which ALTAY MBT has export potential are Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The future pride of Turkish tank building is not only 60% foreign technology, but also highly dependent on imports. Delays in the supply of transmissions, engines, armor elements and much more led to big problems. In 2019, the Turkish government issued a statement that large-scale deliveries of Altay tanks to the army would begin within two years. However, at the beginning of 2021, government plans were published in which there is not a word about the new tank. To solve the problem of supplying the necessary equipment, negotiations are underway with South Korean companies: Hyundai Rotem, Doosan and S&T Dynamics.
A multibillion-dollar contract was awarded to Otokar. According to the contract, the first tank was supposed to leave the assembly line 18 months after the signing of all documents. However, later a change was made and it was decided to start the countdown from the moment of assembly of the first block of the "Altay" tank. It turns out to be a funny situation: since there is no engine, then there is no first unit on the assembly line and the contract is not violated.
BMC, the main contractor for the Altay tank mass production project, reached an agreement with two South Korean companies to work on the power package of the Altay tank in March 2021. The company signed an agreement with Doosan and S&T Dynamics to supply Altay's engine and transmission mechanism. The agreemeent between BMC and South Korean defense companies was a groundbreaking deal. Sources did not give detailed information about the conditions. Until South Korea developed the K2 Black Panther tank with a local power package, it first started production with the engine of the German MTU company and the transmission of the RENK company. However, the regulations regarding the power package were loosened due to the failure of the local engine and transmission to provide sufficient performance (life and durability) from development work. Later, the way was opened for the use of the local engine in the K2 Black Panther tank. However, the German company RENK continued to be used as a supplier for the transmission.
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