Today, we have five firms among the world’s top 100 defense companies. This number will inshallah increase constantly. Our goal is to entirely end our foreign dependency in defense industry by 2023.” An excerpt from the speech of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivered at a ceremony held for the launching of the Kınalıada Corvette, the fourth ship of the MİLGEM (National Ship) Project in September, 2019 (PRESIDENCY OF THE REPUBLIC OF TÜRKIYE , 2019).


On 28 July, one of the largest and most impressive biannual military fairs, International Defense Industry Fair (IDEF) 2023, was concluded in Istanbul, Türkiye, after four days marked by the far-reaching dominance of the Turkish military industry, which exceeded the expectations related to a host country’s specific participation in such an event. The fair that the organizers had described using an inspiring sentence: “The global meeting point of defense industry” was organized under the auspices of the Presidency of the Republic of Türkiye. It surprised in terms of organization, size, displays, the typology of participants, the number of attending official delegations, and last but not least number of participants, either exhibitors or visitors.

Overall, this fair has been dominated by at least four noticeable trends in terms of security and geopolitical dynamics: 1. An increasingly advanced positioning of Türkiye as a manufacturer and supplier of advanced military and security technologies, and therefore with an image of an increasingly powerful state on the international political scene; 2. The confirmation of drones as a key element used in ongoing conflicts – considering the impressive number of models on display at numerous booths; 3. A Türkiye that has achieved a high degree of independence from foreign arms imports; 4. A China that is slowly and surely establishing itself globally on top of the arms production market and as a provider of relevant military and security solutions, without attempting to outperform other exhibitors at this fair.

Therefore, this event may be regarded as a reflection of the current international political landscape, characterized by the multiplication of international power centers, as well as the declining influence of certain powers and the emergence of relevant regional powers to a higher status, features of what some political scientists are already talking about as being specific to the beginning of the “Asian Century”. But what is the story behind IDEF?

Background and the need to establish a Turkish national defence industry – a short glance

Besides being situated in one of the most important strategic positions in the world, given its unique geographical location between the Asian and European continents, Türkiye is also located at the crossroads of several conflict zones, such as the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East, and more recently the Black Sea region. Furthermore, with the second-largest army in NATO and as prominent member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as well as the former Ottoman Empire’s heir, Türkiye is both motivated and obliged to overcome impossible obstacles and to find its place among leading countries.

Keeping in mind that throughout its modern and contemporary history Türkiye has been constantly exposed to different types of threats it “(..) must closely monitor and address the geopolitical and security-related issues that arise from its geographical location (..)” while “(..), Turkish leaders must always be well-prepared, since tackling symmetrical and asymmetrical threats and risks requires them to plan and implement both traditional and non-traditional defense options in a holistic manner.(..)”, as Professor Hüsnü ÖZLÜ of the National Defense University, Alparslan Defense Sciences Institute, Ankara, Turkey, is stressing in an article published recently (ÖZLÜ, 2021, p. 217). Hence, in the words of Professor Özlü, in order to fulfill its function of defending the Turkish territory, it is essential for the Turkish army to be supported and served by a national defense industry that can provide it with the state-of-the-art military equipment (ÖZLÜ, 2021, p. 218).

Beyond Professor Özlü’s argument, a natural one considering the role of a state’s army, the need to establish and develop a defence industry in the case of Türkiye, the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation (TAFF) website mentions that during the Cyprus crisis of 1964, certain allied countries created difficulties for Ankara in using military equipment purchased from them by the Turkish government in the pursuit of its national interest (Turkish Armed Forces Foundation, 2023).

The Cyprus moment of 1964, as well as the one in 1974, when Türkiye felt the effects of the arms embargo imposed by the US on Ankara, were critical situations when the disadvantages of dependence on other countries in meeting defense needs were felt. Therefore, from 1965 until 1993 when the first IDEF took place, a series of foundations were established in Türkiye, which in their turn had contributed to the establishment and development of an indigenous defence industry (Turkish Armed Forces Foundation, 2023). Please note that the data presented below is reproduced almost verbatim from the official website of Turkish Armed Forces Foundation (TAFF) (Turkish Armed Forces Foundation, 2023).

Table 1. Milestones in the establishment of Türkiye’s national armaments industry 1965-1990

1965 “Turkish Naval Society” which directed the efforts of “Build Your Own Ship”
1970 “Turkish Air Force Support Foundation” – meant to develop the aviation industry
1973 Turkish Aircraft Industries Corporation (TAI) – TUSAȘ – pioneering company of aviation, satellites, and   aerospace
1974 “Turkish Land Force Support Foundation”
1975 ASELSAN – products in the field of electronic, communication, warfare systems, military communication systems, electro-optic systems, integrated weapon systems. Besides in the field of civil products, at transportation, traffic, health and security systems.
1978 ISBIR – it provides generators, alternators not only for defense sector but also for civil sector
1981 ASPILSAN – has the capability of producing original battery and battery packs, energy storage systems, rail car battery
1982 HAVELSAN – command and control systems, education, simulation, security systems and cyber-security, information and communication software systems leader in Türkiye
1987 Land, Naval and Air Force Support Foundations were united as Turkish Armed Forces Foundation under the Law no. 3388 on 17 June 1987, and the foundation started its operations on 26 September 1987 – TAFF – which directly and indirectly monitors and supervises its total 15 companies, of which 6 of them are subsidiaries, 9 of them are affiliates
1988 ROKETSAN – the only designer and producer of missile and rocket technology in Türkiye


IDEF from 1993-2023: the stage on which the Turkish dream became reality

IDEF began its history in 1993 based on the decision of TAFF adopted on January 24, 1992, to “to carry out fair services covering the Defense Industry under the responsibility of the Foundation” with the initial purpose of “introducing the national defense industry to the world” (IDEF`23, 2023).However, over the years, IDEF has outgrown its original purpose, as the fair has quickly become a very important international platform for promotion and cooperation in the fields of defense, security, maritime, aviation and space industry. According to its website, IDEF is today one of the four largest defence fairs in the world in terms of delegations and participating companies (IDEF`23, 2023).

IDEF has undergone several transformations over its 16 biannual editions, in terms of the time allocated, the location where it was held and the organizer. Between 1993 and 2007, the fair was held in Ankara, and most of Ankara editions were organized by TÜYAP Fairs and Exhibitions Organization Inc., while some of them by CNR International Fairs Inc. Starting with 2009, IDEF Fair is being held in İstanbul at TÜYAP Fairs and Congress Center and since 2009 they are organized by TÜYAP Fairs and Exhibitions Organization Inc.

Also, the time of the fair has varied over time, being held either in autumn or spring. In 2023, it was held in July although it was initially planned for May (IDEF`23, 2023).

The growth in importance of this fair over the years, both nationally and internationally, is easy to recognize from the data presented in the figures below. Based on the number of Turkish companies participating over the 16 editions, Turkish defense industry is visibly on the rise and the number of foreign companies present on this special stage of the global defense industry speaks for the positioning of IDEF in the top places of events of its kind globally. The figures were produced by using data mainly provided on the official website of IDEF (IDEF.COM, 2023).

Figure 1. IDEF`s history in data

The medium-term benefits of developing an indigenous defence industry: the case of Türkiye

According to Deputy Minister of National Defense Muhsin Dere, the share of military equipment supplied by Turkish defense industry to its military has increased from 20 % in 2002 to 80 % in 2022 (Gazetesi, Sanayi, 2022). In a 2015 newspaper article, President Erdogan is quoted with the following statement: “Our goal is to completely rid our defense industry of foreign dependency by 2023” (Sezer & Hogg, 2015). The same article mentions that in previous year (i.e., 2014), Türkiye’s defense exports had risen 18 % to $ 1.65 bln. and the goal was to reach $ 25 bln. exports by 2023. These numbers are not reflected in SIPRI trend indicator values for Turkish arms exports, but defense exports may encompass equipment other than arms. However, even according to SIPRI’s Trade Indicator Values (TIVs) for Türkyie’s arms exports in the period 1970 – 2022 (USD millions), the exports of Turkish arms have increased rapidly. From $ 3 mln. in 1995, these have reached a peak of $ 438 mln. in 2021 (SIPRI, 2023). Türkiye is acknowledged as world’s 12th largest arms exporter for the period 2018 – 2022, with an increase of 69 % from previous period (2013 – 2017), reaching a 1.1 % share of the total arms exports in the period 2018 – 2022. Its main customers in this period were Qatar, UAE and Oman. At the same time, its arms imports appear to have decreased in the period 2018 – 2022 by 49 % when compared to previous five years. The share of Türkiye’s arms purchases from the total global purchases was 1.3 % for the period 2018 – 2022, down from 2.4 % in 2013 – 2017 (SIPRI Report, 2023). In Table 2, a selection of significant arms exports of Türkiye in the past five years is presented, based on SIPRI’s indicator.

Table 2. Significant arms exports of Türkiye for 2018 – 2022 in $ mln. (SIPRI, 2023).

Türkiye arms exports




2019 2020 2021 2022

Total $ mln.



53 36 92 103




65 83 82




80 77









Ukraine 8 8 91




22 22 17




25 16


Philippines 43




6 15


Tunisia 1 21 3




6 12


Libya GNC 18 0


Morocco 16


Hungary 3 12


Saudi Arabia


5 5



In Table 2, zero signifies exports under $ 0.5 mln. Other customers that imported from Türkiye arms in value less than $ 15 mln. for the period 2018 – 2022 were: Burkina Faso, Kyrgyzstan, Ghana, Chad, Rwanda, Kazakhstan, Niger, Senegal, and others. Military and security studies analyst Sitki Egeli from Izmir University mentioned in 2023:” (..)…middle layer suppliers like Turkey, South Korea and Israel with more speed and flexibility than traditional suppliers, and with much less political strings attached to their defense exports, are rapidly and successfully picking up the slack” (Helou, 2023).


According to its official IDEF’23 page, the 16th International Defense Industry Fair was held on July 25-28, 2023, under the auspices of the Presidency of the Republic of Türkiye, and hosted by the Ministry of National Defense of Türkiye, supported by the Presidency of the Defense Industry Agency of the Republic of Türkiye, under the direction and responsibility of the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation and organized by TÜYAP Fairs and Exhibitions Organization Inc. at the TÜYAP Fair Convention and Congress Center in İstanbul (IDEF`23 – TÜYAP, 2023).

As official data is not officially available on the IDEF 2023 website at the time of drafting this analysis, figures vary depending on the source used. For example, European Defence Review mentions 1461 companies from 55 countries that participated in the fair, of which more than 689 were from Türkiye (European Defence Review, 2023), while after consulting the IDEF database at the section of Turkish companies present at the fair, the number found was around 922 companies (IDEF.COM, 2023).

Following the analysis of the documents collected at the fair and on the official fair website (IDEF.COM, 2023), Türkiye is followed by China with 75 companies, Indonesia, and South Africa with 14 companies, Kazakhstan, France and the UK with 12 companies. In the top list followed Pakistan, Germany and Bosnia and Herzegovina with 7 companies each, the United States with 6, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia with 5. Other participating countries with 4 or less companies were: Bulgaria, South Korea, India, Azerbaijan, Malta, Switzerland, Singapore, Qatar, Jordan, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Malaysia, Sudan, Italy, and Serbia.

Although companies considered “giants from the global defense” such as Airbus, BAE Systems, Dassault Aviation, Lockheed Martin, Leonardo, Navantia or Rolls Royce participated in the fair, the positioning, the way of displaying and the exhibits of key Turkish companies such as ASELSAN, ROKETSAN, HAVELSAN or TAI (TUSAȘ) were the main attractions of the fair.

Beyond the actual brilliance of the top Turkish companies, it emerged that 68 of them produced either mainly drones or drones in addition to other products, while China, although present with a considerable number of firms, presented itself mainly with companies in fields related to defence and security, but also with 10 companies producing drones. Furthermore, among the Turkish companies present at the fair, 18 were working in the cybersecurity and AI technologies field, some of them with a global presence such as Crypttech and its subsidiary Siber Koza.

Instead of conclusion

IDEF`23, can be described from a subjective opinion in 6 words: prestige, style, state-of-the-art technology, the supremacy of top Turkish companies and finally a hellish traffic and temperature outside the exhibition centre.

Reverting to the relevance of the development level of Turkish defence industry for the Turkish people, perhaps the most accurate description at IDEF`23 is reflected in the response of a veteran who was asked by a TRT World reporter how he found the fair and whether he liked the new technologies: “…There is no question of liking or not liking. Whoever you ask, everyone says it is ours. They say everything you see is completely domestic. I cried. I was incredibly proud. (…)” (TRT WORLD, 2023).

But beyond sentimentality, given Türkiye’s economic situation and its immediate needs, one question stands out in the background: given the advanced degree of independence of the Turkish military industry from military imports, and the market share it is seeking in various parts of the world, is Ankara prepared in 2023 to pay the broader price for defending the image that it projected through this fair?


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About the author:

Prof. Ecaterina MATOI

She is Program Director at Middle East Political and Economic Institute. Her areas of expertise and interests are: National Security, Middle Eastern Studies, SSR in Post-Saddam Iraq, Disinformation, Cultures and civilizations; The Military in 20th Century Middle East Politics; Geopolitics of the Persian Gulf region and Nuclear policies in MENA. Prof. MAŢOI is also a devoted researcher and a volunteer trainer on different issues related to her fields of expertise.

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