ALTINAY Aerospace and Advanced Technologies (ALTINAY Aerospace), which has recently made a name for itself with the indigenous products it has introduced to the sector, has also attracted attention with the joint venture companies it established with Turkish Aerospace and ASELSAN. We spoke to M. Emin İlkmen, General Manager of ALTINAY Aerospace, DASAL Chairman of the Board and TAAC Vice Chairman, about the company’s efforts to address the deficiencies in the Turkish defence and aerospace sector in critical areas, as well as its vision and the news it is preparing to announce on the export front.
MSI TDR: Mr. İlkmen, ALTINAY Aerospace is operating at a wide range of areas, such as unmanned systems, aviation technologies, motion control systems, and ammunition disposal and production technologies. How did this wide field of activity come about?
M. Emin İLKMEN: Today, our country is making important leaps forward in terms of technology, especially in the defence sector, and its success is being noted all over the world. The technological development of ALTINAY Aerospace started with the development of Turkey’s first industrial robot in the 90s, at a time when there was little awareness of Turkey’s capabilities. Our most distinctive feature in this period was our mastery of basic engineering, a result of our product development experience based on the power of Turkish engineering. Since our entry to the defence sector, we have expanded significantly our range of activities, generating solutions for our stakeholders in areas where the country’s needs and our core competencies overlap. I should note here that this accumulation is not something that has happened instantly, and that it took us to walk an arduous path requiring considerable patience and effort. The defence sector possesses a wealth of high-quality labour, and returns on investments are realised over a much longer timeframe when compared to other sectors.
The point that needs to be emphasised here is that we deal with the problems we encounter with pure engineering curiosity, without saying “this cannot be done”. In the mid-2000s, at a time when the sector was just starting to expand, the demands of our customers were for systems that were relatively easy to develop, but with the technological depth our firm acquired we gained the ability to develop much more sophisticated, sensitive and complex systems. This led us to embark on a patient struggle to develop our technical personnel, infrastructure and resources. The fields of activity that you have listed have grown as part of this struggle, and can be considered as the tangible outcomes of our labours. In the coming period, we will offer many new technologies and systems to the service of the sector through this approach.
We are aware that exports are critical for the sustainability of our companies, and will focus on this area with all our energy as the pandemic subsides. As soon as we are able to restart our export activities, we hope to be able to share good news about the contracts that were approaching their final stage.
ALTINAY Aerospace’s Signature Under many Firsts
MSI TDR: Some of your fields of activity are also about newly developing systems around the world. Can you tell us about ALTINAY Aerospace’s achievements or products that can be described as firsts in the country or around the globe?
M. Emin İLKMEN: ALTINAY Aerospace has recorded significant accomplishments in the field of defence and aerospace, with almost 15 years of experience. Of course, in the unique world of the defence sector, it is not possible to describe every job in detail.
Since every product we develop differs from its counterparts in certain aspects and has unique features, many of them can be considered firsts in the sector. For instance, the first national and domestic servo actuators developed for the fire control system of main battle tanks in Turkey bear the signature of our team, and have been used on the ALTAY tank. Another important example, the Quad Rack System (ÇTS) that we have developed with ASELSAN for the Miniature Bomb, is only the second product in the world developed in this class, after the one produced by Boeing. As such, with the ÇTS, a release system has been developed for the first time in our country. The Telescopic Tank Mast for the M60TM main battle tanks, which we developed within the scope of the FIRAT-M60T Modernisation Project, is the first such domestic product to prove itself in the field, while the HÜRJET Iron Bird Test System, for which we have completed the critical design process, is the most complex and comprehensive test system of its kind ever to be developed in the aerospace sector in our country. In addition to these, our ALBATROS Multi-Purpose UAV has achieved many firsts in its field with its modularity and performance, as well as its ability to carry both weapon systems and cargo simultaneously.
Behind all these developments lie the investments and the trust ALTINAY Aerospace places in the power of engineering. The atmosphere that surrounds you the moment you enter our company’s facilities bears the sign of a company with the ability to support itself in its knowledge and capabilities. This is an important feature that protects us against the risks that only production-based firms face in crisis environments.
ALTINAY Aerospace Creates its Own Ecosystem
MSI TDR: Where does ALTINAY Aerospace position itself in the Turkish defence and aerospace sector in terms of its capabilities and products?
M. Emin İLKMEN: ALTINAY Aerospace has risen to a position as an important system and subsystem supplier, filling a critical gap between main contractors and design companies in the Turkish defence and aerospace pyramid, especially with the breakthroughs it has made over the last 6 years. Within the platform-based technology attainment strategy of our country, we sometimes encounter problems in system supply, and these problems were all the motivation ALTINAY Aerospace needed to transform its competencies from component design to system development. We have established two joint venture companies: TAAC, together with Turkish Aerospace, thanks to our capabilities in motion control systems; and DASAL, together with ASELSAN, thanks to our capabilities in unmanned systems. These companies are the most important indication that the positioning I just mentioned is appreciated and encouraged by the state. Of course, we have also competencies in ammunition production and destruction technologies, which is another important area. Considering all these together, ALTINAY Aerospace is now undertaking the responsibility of creating its own ecosystem, for which we endeavour to expand our cooperation with our competent Turkish companies, universities and institutes. We will become the leading system and subsystem supplier to the sector once we have introduced our ecosystem to the experience we have gained over many years in critical technology areas.
Competencies Turned into Products
MSI TDR: One of the most frequent issues encountered in the Turkish defence and aerospace sector is the inability of companies in the sector to turn their many capabilities into actual off-the-shelf products. You, however, have emerged as one of the few companies in the sector with the ability to manufacture a wealth of off-the-shelf products in a short time. What can you tell us about this success?
M. Emin İLKMEN: Unfortunately, in our country, some problems exist in understanding the difference between off-the-shelf product and prototype. An off-the-shelf product, by description, is a product that has completed all of the necessary development processes, and that offers extremely high repeatability in terms of production and performance. We observe many firms encountering difficulties in achieving commercial success with prototype-level products, as they lack an awareness of all the long processes of design, production, testing, qualification and certification. For ALTINAY Aerospace to reach the level of system supplier, it set out on a long and arduous journey in which a mastery of all these processes was needed. Another quality required for the attainment of an off-the-shelf product is an indigenous design philosophy. As a requirement of our own design philosophy, which we have matured in recent years, we attach great importance to modularity, interchangeability and adaptation to different purposes in the design of our products. As such, we are able to present many off-the-shelf systems, and adapt these products to the needs of our customers in a cost-effective manner thanks to our strong engineering infrastructure.
Product Families that Meet Every Need
MSI TDR: In almost every area in which it operates, ALTINAY Aerospace creates product families rather than developing a single product. Are these product families dictated by user demand? What is your strategy in this regard?
M. Emin İLKMEN: There is a tolerable difference between the cost of developing a product and the cost of developing a product family. Once we start thinking about a solution to a cluster of problems rather than a solution to a given problem within that cluster, the value of creating a product family rather than a product naturally becomes apparent.
Before you start developing a product family, it is imperative that you analyse every need of the customer and determine the mission profiles of the products well. User feedback, especially from those in the field, is very important here. A feature that you may think is important during the design phase may not make sense in the field, and it is very difficult to offer the same product to every user, as every user wants certain features. In terms of sustainability while meeting the needs of the different users, your solutions should have as large a common denominator as possible, and the advantages of a modular approach surface here in that it allows you to overcome common problems quickly. Performing these analyses correctly also allows you to focus on the most economically efficient approach, and one that suits your capabilities.
ALTINAY Aerospace and its Subsidiaries will become Global Players
MSI TDR: What were the motivations and goals behind the establishment of TAAC and DASAL? Why were joint venture company models preferred over main contractor-subcontractor relationships or solution partnership models?
M. Emin İLKMEN: Partnerships in defence and aerospace are strategic, and are precursors to relationships that will last for generations to come. Our state favours the capabilities of ALTINAY Aerospace for the filling of some important gaps in the sector, and this has been a source of great pride for us. As with the rest of the world, the sector in our country is organised and regulated by the state. Here, we strive to act with the conscience of the role assigned to our company and the heavy responsibilities we bear. We firmly believe that we can bring great added value to our partners and our country thanks to our highly confident, dynamic and determined team, and our agile organisational structure.
The scale of our company allows us to maintain a much more flexible structure than the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation (TAFF) companies. On the other hand, the careful protection and maintenance of investments in strategic areas is a strategically important issue. Of course, had we not successfully maintained our main contractor-subcontractor relationships up to the present day, we would unlikely have been granted this recognition. The TAAC and DASAL joint ventures came into being in recognition of the strategic importance in moving beyond this kind of relationship – which is a point that was appreciated by all stakeholders. Our next goal is to turn ALTINAY Aerospace and its affiliates into global players for which it is important to have the power of ASELSAN and Turkish Aerospace behind us.
We see the benefits of developing modular product families also in the field of UGVs. Our Vaşak (Lynx) and Karakulak (Caracal) platforms can utilise all the payloads we have developed in tandem, including UGV Gimbals, Weapon Modules and Mapping Modules, aside from having common mission computers and battery systems.
Joint Ventures Increase Synergy
MSI TDR: Can it be said that the approach of establishing joint venture companies has become a strategy for ALTINAY Aerospace? Do you plan to establish similar joint ventures in your other areas of expertise?
M. Emin İLKMEN: The DASAL and TAAC companies were the first joint ventures to be established by the ALTINAY Defence and Aerospace Group. When suitable conditions arise for other capabilities within the ALTINAY Aerospace and Advanced Technologies company, we may evaluate the benefit of establishing new joint ventures.
The ALTINAY Technology Group comprises companies in three main groups, focusing on the fields of robotics-automation, energy-mobility and defence-aerospace. ALTINAY Robot Technologies, KSM and OLBRICHT form the robotics-automation group; ALTINAY Electromobility, ALTINAY Modification and eMobitech make up the energy-mobility group; and ALTINAY Aerospace and Advanced Technologies, DASAL and TAAC all belong to the defence-aerospace group.
Our main strategy is to identify the optimum methods for growth in our areas of operation. In a similar vein, as we may incorporate some of our areas of capability, we may also unite some companies under the same umbrella in the future, or recruit others into our group to take advantage of their capabilities. We attach great importance to the synchronisation and cooperation of all these companies. Collaboration in the areas where there are overlaps and the efficient use of resources are always among our priorities.
UGVs Working in Tandem with UAVs
MSI TDR: There are multiple players in the areas in which ALTINAY Aerospace operates, such as unmanned aerial and land vehicles, and telescopic mast systems. How do ALTINAY Aerospace’s products stand out among their counterparts in Turkey and around the globe?
M. Emin İLKMEN: The unmanned aerial and land vehicle sectors have now matured and divided into layers within themselves, and new classes have been born. For example, in the field of unmanned ground vehicles (UGV), ALTINAY Aerospace initially targeted vehicles in the “mini” class that can work in collaboration with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). We believe that the ability to operate unmanned ground and air vehicles together will be an important capability for our security forces in the coming years, and this has led us to develop the necessary technologies within DASAL and ALTINAY Aerospace. These technologies will change the rules of the game in the coming years. Of course, while doing this, we do not exclude other companies in the sector, considering them to be part of the wealth of our country, and as stakeholders with whom we can cooperate. Creating systems that can work with the UGVs or UAVs of other companies would be a great source of satisfaction for us. We see the benefits of developing modular product families also in the field of UGVs. Our Vaşak (Lynx) and Karakulak (Caracal) platforms can utilise all the payloads we have developed in tandem, including UGV Gimbals, Weapon Modules and Mapping Modules, aside from having common mission computers and battery systems. This approach will undoubtedly provide a great advantage to our security forces in terms of integrated logistics support. We will continue our growth strategy in the field of unmanned vehicles on land, on the surface and underwater, in coordination with our UAVs, and similar to our UAVs, we aim to continue to grow our product families in both of these areas from “mini” to “midi” classes. Aside from providing them with common operational capabilities, we also aim to provide our platforms with the best basic features, such as throwing height, speed and endurance.
For our mast systems, we have developed and patented a technology that will keep the masts at the same height where they were released, without the need for locking, and this technology, having been integrated into various platforms, proved itself in the field during Operation Peace Spring. In order to be a preferred player in the sector, you must be capable of dispatching the most advanced technologies to the field in the shortest possible time.
Export News on the Horizon
MSI TDR: What kind of effort does ALTINAY Aerospace put into exports?
M. Emin İLKMEN: Our products are attracting attention in the export markets due to our technical capability and cost advantages, and we can give the exports made to the United States in 2010 of Destruction Ammunition and Production Systems as evidence of this. This export was not a production activity within the scope of offset or an off-the-shelf product. I am proud to state that it was developed for a specific need, and commissioned in the United States by Turkish engineers.
Although we have made various successful exports in the past, we can say that we had problems with sustainability from time to time, and there have also been periods when our efforts to open up to the outside markets have slowed due especially to the constant demands from the domestic market. In recent years, however, we have gained significant export potential through our off-the-shelf product strategy; through our advance to the level of systems supplier from a component or prototype manufacturer level; and through the maturation of our design philosophy and the importance we attribute to business development activities. Our export potential is also boosted largely on the breakthroughs we have achieved in the field of UAVs. In addition to our proven and perfected products in the field, solutions such as the ALBATROS Multi-Purpose UAV, which achieved various firsts in the field, are attracting attention especially in South East Asia, the Middle East and the Turkic Republics.
Unfortunately, some of the most important contracts we had planned to conclude in 2020 have been interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak, while another negative effect of the pandemic has been our postponement for a short time of our goal to establish a network of representation offices across a wide geography. We are aware that exports are critical for the sustainability of our companies, and will focus on this area with all our energy as the pandemic subsides. As soon as we are able to restart our export activities, we hope to be able to share good news about the contracts that were approaching their final stage.
MSI TDR: Does ALTINAY Aerospace have any investments that are currently ongoing or planned for the near future?
M. Emin İLKMEN: Investment is an important topic for us. Our highest priority is to invest in a facility that will meet all the future infrastructure requirements of ALTINAY Aerospace and its affiliates. This large investment, which will include all of our design, production, assembly and testing capabilities, and will provide us with future growth opportunities, will be of significant value to our country considering the critical competencies it will support and the high quality employment it will provide.
Our next goal is to turn ALTINAY Aerospace and its affiliates into global players for which it is important to have the power of ASELSAN and Turkish Aerospace behind us.
MSI TDR: What can you say about ALTINAY Aerospace’s goals for the future?
M. Emin İLKMEN: As ALTINAY Defence and Aerospace Group, our main short-term goal is to ensure the healthy development of our newly established companies. Aside from that, we want to be seen as the “Solution House” in all of our fields of activity in Turkey and the surrounding region. Under the TAAC umbrella, we hope to take on responsibilities as an important stakeholder in our country’s strategic aerospace projects, and especially in the HÜRJET and National Combat Aircraft programmes; while through our DASAL company, we hope to meet the needs of our customers through our UAVs. Of course, these activities do not mean putting the work of ALTINAY Aerospace on the back-burner, but are rather a sign that we will deepen our efforts with greater concentration.
We plan to increase the number of collaborations with newly developed products, and to turn the capable firms in our ecosystem into contributors to the defence sector.
We strive with all our mature products to find a place in foreign markets.
ALTINAY Aerospace to Export Technologies
MSI TDR: Speaking of foreign markets, can we address your future targets in regards to exports? Friendly and allied nations have started demanding technology transfer and joint production. What is ALTINAY Aerospace’s approach to this?
M. Emin İLKMEN: Today, no enclosed country exists that can develop technologies on its own, in isolation from the world. Many of the companies in our country maintain a close relationship with their stakeholders in the world in terms of both imports and exports. ALTINAY Aerospace has entered into beneficial technological collaborations at different levels with companies and organisations in many countries, such as Italy, France, the United States, Germany, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Belgium, and so has profound experience in this field.
Given our favourable approach to technology transfer and joint production, our negotiations with many countries have managed to mature. Since cooperation in defence and aerospace is likely to continue for many years, we take as much care as possible while taking these steps. We believe that we will be able to share some good news related to technology transfer in the fields of unmanned systems and motion control technologies very soon.
MSI TDR: Is there anything you would like to add?
M. Emin İLKMEN: We have been following MSI TDR with appreciation for many years. Since we carry out works on a rather technical level, we have had difficulty communicating with the public. On behalf of my team, I would like to thank you for your contribution to the sharing of our crucial works with the public.
On behalf of our readers, we would like to thank M. Emin İlkmen, General Manager of ALTINAY Aerospace, DASAL Chairman of the Board and TAAC Deputy Chairman, for taking the time to answer our questions and for providing us with such valuable information.