Erdogan Turns to Jets to Boost Support in Turkey’s Election

(Bloomberg) — Turkey unveiled a model of its first fighter jet this weekend, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended events celebrating the country’s military history and his own role in building up its defense industry.

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A prototype of the TF-X fighter jet was revealed on Saturday, along with models of a light attack aircraft and a stealthy combat drone, while Erdogan attended a ceremony at Gallipoli to mark the anniversary of a key World War I victory for the former Ottoman Empire. That battle carries symbolic weight in the formation of modern Turkey.

Erdogan, who came to power more than 20 years ago, is seeking to extend his rule in elections on May 14 and hopes that ambitious arms projects will increase his popularity among nationalist and conservative voters. He’s facing the broadest-ever grouping of opposition parties, which are vying to end to his increasingly authoritarian leadership.

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The president on Sunday inaugurated a facility that will produce boron carbide, which is used to make bulletproof armor vests, helicopter seats and armors for tanks. Turkey is striving to develop more of its own military assets, including domestic engines for tanks and warplanes, so it can rely less on non-domestic manufacturers.

“With the production of boron carbide, we will have a key defense industry product that is used from planes to tactical vehicles as well as protective vests,” Erdogan said at the opening of the facility, which aims to produce 1,000 tons of boron carbide per year in the western Balikesir province. “With this project we’re adding value to our vast boron mineral deposits and becoming the producer and exporter of the world’s third-hardest substance.”

Erdogan said Turkey’s development of its defense sector has been slowed down due to “sanctions” from NATO allies, adding that it will build another boron carbide facility with an annual capacity of 5,000 tons in the western province of Kutahya.

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Turkey’s homemade Bayraktar TB2 drones, developed by one of Erdogan’s son-in-laws, drew praise from Ukraine to Azerbaijan as a low-cost but effective weapons systems. Erdogan’s push for homegrown defense kits has pitched Ankara into uneasy new alliances and convulsing ties with traditional NATO partners.

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Washington remains wary about Turkey’s possession of an advanced Russian missile-defense system at a time when Ankara is hoping to purchase new F-16 warplanes from the US.

Turkey took delivery of the S-400 missile-defense system made by Russia in 2019, two years after Ankara signed an agreement with Moscow to buy the system in the hope that the cooperation could help it develop similar technology. The US sanctioned Turkey and barred it from working on and receiving Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 stealth jets in response.

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Turkey recently test-fired a locally made, short-range ballistic missile. Erdogan has since said the nation is working on increasing the range of its domestically-built Tayfun missiles.

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