You can read the interview published in the August 2019 Issue of MSI Turkish Defence Review here:
“Our interests are not limited to our own country; we’re aiming also for the world markets.”
STM showcased its naval systems, autonomous drone systems, cybersecurity solutions and satellite systems at IDEF’19, with particular focus on export. Murat İkinci, General Manager of STM, kindly answered our questions after taking part at the exhibition, where the company had a full agenda of signing ceremonies, meetings and delegation visits, and Mr. İkinci shared with us the details of STM’s goals for the upcoming period.
MSI TDR: Mr. İkinci, could you first of all share with us your thoughts about IDEF’19? How did IDEF’19 go from STM’s standpoint?
Murat İKİNCİ: We look at IDEF’19 from a result-oriented perspective. There is a certain output to all the resources, time and labour we have spent, and when we consider all these factors, I can say that IDEF was a successful and effective exhibition for us.
As STM, we believe that the Turkish defence and aerospace sector should not limit itself to the domestic market, and should create for itself a larger resource through export. Our customer portfolio consists of customers in developing countries from Far East to Latin America and IDEF gave us a good base from which to reach out to these countries and improve our relations.
Another important point that I need to emphasize on about the exhibition is this year’s exhibition had much more participation by SMEs than the events held in previous years. We were delighted to see the efforts made by all these SMEs to showcase their products, because when we engage in export projects, we don’t just export STM products. Since its founding in 1991, STM’s most important tasks have included assisting Turkish defence and aerospace sector companies, including SMEs, in owing their own products and ensuring that they are exported as components aboard main platforms. For example, while the level of domestic contribution in the MİLGEM project was previously around 35 percent, we have managed to increase this contribution up to 70 percent as a result of these efforts.
Based on a result-oriented approach, and looking from the standpoint of both export oriented meetings and our communications with our business partners, I can say that we have reaped the fruits of our labours at IDEF.
MSI TDR: STM joined IDEF’19 as one of the world’s top 100 defence companies. During a press conference held on December 5 last year, you announced that one of the main targets of STM for 2023 was to become one of the world’s top 50 defence companies. To what degree has IDEF’19 brought you closer to your 2023 target?
Murat İKİNCİ: We are continuing to make progress in our strategic plan to make our way into the top 50 companies. As part of this plan, we are working on many projects that offer substantial export potential, for which we carry out an analysis of the conditions and market in each country. In this respect, IDEF’19 also gave us a good opportunity to re-establish close contacts with our customers and to take fresh steps. In doing this, we have come to notice that these customers have other needs, and that we have other capabilities that may be proposed to satisfy them.
STM Mini-UAVs on the Radar of Many Countries
MSI TDR: With regards to your export objectives, which of your products or capabilities stood out the most at IDEF?
Murat İKİNCİ: STM is Turkey’s leading organisation in the export of engineering and naval platforms, but aside from these, our drones boast a high export potential, and attracted significant attention at the exhibition. Our autonomous systems, which are subjected to constant engineering and technological investments, are on the radar of many countries, especially those in the Southeast Asian and South American markets. We are continuing to work with these countries on the export of our drones. Since these platforms are rather low-cost relative to the benefits they provide, they harbour substantial export potential. After IDEF, we made a very successful demonstration for a country that we have good relations, and are now negotiating a confirmed purchase order. We will continue to invest in this area, and these systems will come to occupy an important place in STM’s export potential in the upcoming period.
Cyber-security was another important area in which we stood out at IDEF’19. I do not think we have been sufficiently successful in sharing our cybersecurity capabilities with international actors, however IDEF’19 has served as a very effective platform for the expansion of our customer network from naval projects to the cyber-security side. Now, we have significant demands from global markets in the cyber-security field. All things considered, it certainly makes us more motivated to see the products we are developing and rolling out for our country attracting such attention.
MSI TDR: One of the highlights at IDEF was the newly developed ability of mini-UAV systems to be deployed in swarms. Can you tell us about the technological challenges and the work involved in the development of this capability which, to us, seems so easy to describe in a sentence, and also about the achievements that STM has marked in this field?
Murat İKİNCİ: I would like to start first by describing what we do differently. While the appearance of our mini-UAV systems does not change over time, we have made some notable improvements in many performance parameters. The first example I can give in this regard is the increased endurance we have provided to our mini-UAV systems, which is now up to three times longer than when we first started.
The main difference between our mini-UAV systems and those of our competitors is their computer vision, artificial intelligence and image processing capabilities. Mini-UAV systems generally lack these capabilities, since they are difficult and expensive to provide and install. mini-UAV systems are usually commanded from the ground, and if the connection is lost, the drone will be unable to fulfil its mission. Our mini-UAV systems, on the other hand, have been developed to function autonomously, and have the ability to make decisions of their own, to see on their own, and to execute their missions on their own.
In a demonstration we performed prior to IDEF, we succeeded, without user interaction, in moving over 20 mini-UAVs, deploying them on a mission during which they moved and shared the mission like a swarm. This was an extremely important development, being “Turkey’s first mini-UAV system with swarm attack capability”. This capability brings with it the ability to eliminate and neutralise high-value platforms through swarm attacks that are extremely simple yet effective and low-cost in their execution. Since the mini-UAVs can move as a swarm, the failure of a few in their mission does not prevent the others from picking up and continuing the mission. The other drones in the swarm are capable of engaging and performing the same mission without the need for user interaction until their mission is completed.
The ability of mini-UAVs to move and act as a swarms brings an entirely different concept to the battlefield. We are approaching a new era in which main platforms and systems can be eliminated by low-cost and effective technological solutions. There are several countries and companies in the world working on swarm technologies. The successes we will achieve in this regard and the feedback we receive from the field will open up a vast product area in front of us where we are more or less at the same stage as all other international companies engaged in this technology. It is at this point that our difference will become apparent, because unless they change their current perspectives and understanding, they will not able to easily offer these products to the countries we consider our target markets. When we look at the long-standing reflexes of these companies, we see that they only offer their products to foreign markets after these products reach a certain level of maturity, and only after they have developed new technologies that enable them to produce the next line or type of products that will supplant the preceding ones. We can secure a large part of the market by assuming a pioneering role with the new technologies we have gained.
“We Will Continue our Work on the Turkish Type Assault Boat”
MSI TDR: At IDEF, you signed the “Fast Attack Craft Development Project Cooperation Protocol” with the Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB), and a goodwill agreement with ASELSAN concerning the “Electric Drive System Development for High Speed Boats” project. What do these developments signify for Turkish Navy’s Fast Attack Craft project?
Murat İKİNCİ: All around the world, emphasis has begun to shift from large and expensive systems to small, effective and low-cost systems that can meet operational needs. The Patrol Boat is a cost-effective solution that is highly agile and it features many capabilities within its main systems. The Fast Attack Craft carries the same export potential asmini-UAV systems. STM, which harbours under its umbrella the largest group of companies working in the field of naval engineering in Turkey, is conducting intensive works in this subject. We have carried out these works with our own resources and have come up with a new design concept. During IDEF, we signed important documents with the SSB and ASELSAN regarding this topic, and we are continuing our efforts in this subject with our own resources. The agreement we signed with the SSB was a clear indication that we are on the right path in our activities.
There is another issue I would like to mention: There are many countries showing an interest in the Fast Attack Craft, despite it still being in the concept stage. Although we have not made any requests for meetings at this stage, several countries in our customer portfolio have expressed an interest in these works, given their similar requirements, and are keen to learn more about our solution.
MSI TDR: Looking from a wider perspective, what position do these developments grant STM in the naval systems and platforms market?
Murat İKİNCİ: Our goal is to become a major player in the international arena. Presently, the naval systems and platforms market – including surface and submarine platforms is monopolised by certain major countries. Turkey has entered this playing field to disrupt the game. It is also showing its disruptive potential with the ambitious projects it has undertaken recently. This disruptive, game-changing character should continue until Turkey gains a significant share of the international market. As one of Turkey’s leading players in this area, STM ranks among the companies that are working tirelessly to represent our country assertively in the global marketplace.
Our interests are not limited to our own country; we’re aiming also for the world markets. Until we reach a point where we can globally compete with our competitors, we cannot consider ourselves as having reached the tipping point. To this end, we are taking significant steps as part of specific plans and programs, but we can only achieve this by taking actions that affect the sector as a whole, including the manufacturing companies, SMEs and universities, to the next level.
In line with these targets, we at STM are also trying to improve our human resources. Our “Deep Quests” programme aims to train naval engineers with the necessary experience and knowledge to work on the indigenous submarine projects of the future. For this, we visit to universities where we provide courses and organise competitions, with nothing expected in return, and we carry out similar activities for the fields of cybersecurity and autonomous aircraft.
Exemplary Cooperation with Pakistan
MSI TDR: Pakistan stands out as STM’s most important export market. What is the current situation of your works in this country?
Murat İKİNCİ: Our current business in Pakistan is continuing successfully. We have excellent relations with the Pakistan Navy and we are currently discussing new projects, including serious and dedicated works for midget submarines. Normally, one would expect the relations of two parties that work together on so many projects to deteriorate after a while. However, our relations are constantly moving forward to a much higher level. There is also significant cooperation between the Pakistan Navy and the Turkish Naval Forces, which also affects us positively. The task of exporting MİLGEM corvettes to Pakistan has been entrusted to ASFAT. Whatever support is expected from STM in this process, we are ready to provide it, without any preconditions, since we view this project to be an export achievement of Turkey as a whole.
MSI TDR: Cybersecurity constitutes one of the main areas of activity of STM. What developments have you witnessed at IDEF in this area?
Murat İKİNCİ: We address cybersecurity through a proactive and holistic approach. The products and services we develop are based on identifying a potential threat and taking the necessary measures before the threat can fully develop, or before the emerging threat causes a vulnerability. In this context, our Cyber Fusion Centre, which assumes an important duty in its field and represents a first for Turkey, is engaged in Cyber Threat Intelligence, Cyber Operations and Malware Analysis services. Cybersecurity is one of the areas in which artificial intelligence, the new centre of attraction of our era, will be deployed extensively. In areas where qualified human resources are limited – for example, in areas that require learning of basic skills and areas such as system vulnerability analysis – we are working on artificial intelligence algorithms that can carry out the necessary analyses far more rapidly than humans. Particularly in this field, we have developed the Cybersecurity Decision Support System (CyDecSys). This product, which was high on the agenda at IDEF, harbours a great export potential and is likely to become one of the few select products of its kind in the world. In fact, even if you lack sufficient qualified manpower, it can still provide you with an ideal solution in the field of cybersecurity. This product will be followed by others that we intend to develop.
In addition to this, another one of our projects that we consider to be important is the Information Technology Security Evaluation Facility (ITSEF), which is an independent testing laboratory that we have established within the scope of Common Criteria – which are accepted as the international standard for information technologies security. This laboratory measures the level of adequacy of software products with regards to cybersecurity, and this certification is officially recognised in around 30 countries. In this area, STM is able to provide certification up to the EAL4+ level.
MSI TDR: What is the latest situation in STM’s works on the LAGARİ and PİRİSAT satellite concepts, and what are your future plans in this area? Do you have any other works in the field of space?
Murat İKİNCİ: In the LAGARİ High Definition Micro Ground Observation Satellite and the PİRİSAT Space-Based Automatic Identification System (AIS) Application projects, we have already completed the design processes, and are currently working on subsystem and equipment production. As part of the PİRİSAT project, we have already launched satellite qualification model integration activities. Both satellites will be launched in the second half of 2020, and will start to provide data immediately afterwards. With these satellites, we aim to enhance the satellite technologies infrastructure that will be required particularly for constellation satellite missions, and to demonstrate that high-performance ground observation missions can be accomplished with cost-effective satellites of such size.
At a time when the need for rapid access to data is increasing, it is inevitable that the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) will become more attractive for the provision of satellite-based services. Accordingly, we are continuing to work on satellites that operate in the LEO, which is 35 times closer to the ground than the Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO), which accelerates communications between the satellite and the ground owing to the reduced distance.
In the near future, we will see greater use of constellation satellites and multiple ground stations, as well as the presentation of data obtained from satellites as a customised service to customers. We are also preparing STM for the future in this regard, positioning it as a Service Provider for LEO class satellites and constellations.
ThinkTech on the Path to Becoming a Global Think Tank.
MSI TDR: What kind of works were conducted at IDEF in relation to STM ThinkTech, Turkey’s first technology based think tank?
Murat İKİNCİ: ThinkTech is a think tank we established without profit in mind. The main purpose of this think tank is to provide objective reports, with an engineering and mathematical basis, to the state’s strategic decision-makers. Once ThinkTech reaches the level we want it to achieve, it will continue to exist outside STM, acting as a strategic centre not only for Turkey but the entire region.
MSI TDR: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Murat İKİNCİ: There are also a few things I would like to say about MSI TDR. MSI TDR is a publication that has been in the sector for a long time, and I follow it regularly. I find you to be very successful in what you do, and hope that you continue in this way. There are new players who have entered the sector; but I am fully confident that you will continue to develop in the light of the experience you have gained to date, authoring even more successful works.
On behalf of our readers, we would like to thank Murat İkinci, the General Manager of STM, for taking the time to answer our questions and for providing us with such valuable information.