Samsun Yurt Savunma (SYS) has a unique profile in the sector in terms of its product development and export achievements. Aside from selling the firearms that it develops all over the world, the company also offers services and accessories to its users in support of these products under several different brands and is diversifying its activities through joint ventures. We spoke to C. Utku Aral, General Manager of SYS, who told us how the company’s vision illuminates this challenging path, giving details of the steps it has taken to date and its ongoing export activities.
MSI TDR: Mr. Aral, how would you describe SYS’ main goal and the path it is following considering the diversity of the activities in which it is engaged?
C. Utku ARAL: Since our establishment, we have sought to become an organisation that can undertake all kinds of tasks with such weapon systems as machine guns and autocannons – from R&D to design, and from production to integration. In line with this goal, we have always strived to establish an ecosystem that can act as a solution partner, and that can fulfil all the necessary tasks with a turnkey approach to weapon systems projects for the sector’s platform manufacturers. We do this with the knowledge that everything we do has to be sustainable if we are to achieve our goal; and having seen that the key to this is exports, this has always been our priority.
We knew that the path we have stepped on was challenging. We need to maintain a team of mechatronics, stabilisation systems, and integration experts if we are to produce a weapon system, and when you consider the life cycle of such a product, we also need to place training and logistical support at the forefront. Above all, of course, we need to be able to design this weapon, and so before all this, we developed a specialisation in small arms. We started this process at the end of the 1990s with the launch of the CANİK brand and the production of handguns, as the smallest of firearms.
All of the brands that we have created since, all the joint venture companies that we have established, and all of our export operations have been decisive steps toward our becoming a solution partner that can offer turnkey weapon system solutions to platform manufacturers.
Today, we are a company with which international industrial giants in the defence and aerospace industry prefer to do business, given our ability to come up with solutions to their most challenging problems.
MSI TDR: To what extent has SYS achieved this goal? How would you summarise the status of SYS today?
C. Utku ARAL: The most challenging step in this journey was building a company that could rise from its foundations without relying on anyone else, and with a sustainable model. We were aware that exports were a must for this, and have been successful in this regard, going far beyond expectations.
Today, we are a company with which international industrial giants in the defence and aerospace industry prefer to do business, given our ability to come up with solutions to their most challenging problems. We develop tailor-made solutions for the defence and security sector and strive to convey to Turkey the international vision we have gained with our subsidiaries.
To achieve our goals, we are adding new areas of expertise to our company, and have set up joint venture companies such as Unidef and UNIROBOTICS to work in these areas, taking bold steps without hesitation. Similarly, we have created such brands as MECANİK, CANİK Academy, CANİK Tech, CANİK Team, and CANİK News, each of which is specialised in its respective area.
Transferring the International Vision to Turkey
MSI TDR: You mentioned transferring your international vision to Turkey. Can you elaborate on this?
C. Utku ARAL: As a company that sets out with an export goal to ensure sustainability, we constantly keep up with global trends. This leads us to participate in various tenders opened by end-users, including the armed forces and security forces of different countries. Although we cannot win all of these tenders, each teaches us something new. We take part in some tenders knowing that we cannot win, however, this gives us an international perspective. We strive to share this perspective with our country at every opportunity.
We develop tailor-made solutions for the defence and security sector and strive to convey to Turkey the international vision we have gained with our subsidiaries.
The best example of this was the Indigenous Handgun Development Project. While the specification for this project was still being drawn up, we constantly emphasised the importance of making the handguns to be developed under the project suitable for the attachment of accessories. Consequently, articles were included in the project specification that stated that the handguns must be suitable for the attachment of accessories. Within this project, we developed the TP9 METE model and became the first company to sign a mass production contract in the project as a result. As the handguns were to be suitable for the attachment of accessories, this meant additional costs for us at every stage, from R&D to mass production, but we couldn’t have acted any other way on something we knew to be correct.
Tailored Solutions to Challenging Problems
MSI TDR: You stated that SYS is a company that can produce tailored solutions. What do you mean by this?
C. Utku ARAL: In fact, this issue is related to the international vision that I just described. Even when the end-user does not define its need, we can see their need very early on, and we create a project accordingly and present it to them. That said, such needs often come with complex problems, and we develop tailor-made solutions that can overcome these problems. Again, to explain with an example, when CH-47F helicopters entered the inventory of the Turkish Armed Forces, we realised that this platform would need to be armed soon. Under the umbrella of Unidef, we worked on this issue and presented the solutions that we could offer to overcome this ch”allenging problem to the user. In short, when we started our studies, the user had not yet identified their need, and so we did it for them.
Unidef can Cooperate with SYS’ Competitors
MSI TDR: What is Unidef’s role in this vision?
C. Utku ARAL: At SYS, we knew that our security forces would require machine guns and autocannons that were developed indigenously at domestic facilities in the medium term, and that they need to integrate these weapon systems into platforms would naturally arise. In 2012, when we started working on machine guns, we decided to launch a company that could undertake integration projects for these weapons. In 2013, together with Kayhan Av Tüfekleri, we established Unidef as a joint venture company. Unidef started working on small- and medium-calibre gun integration solutions for land, naval, and air platforms, and successfully completed weapons system integration projects on several platforms that have now become mass-producible and are offered ready-to-use.
The fact that Unidef is working on integration projects provides us with another advantage. Most of the time, Unidef integrates “off-the-shelf” weapons, and so knows very well the shortcomings of the existing weapons on the market, understanding that how a weapon should be designed from the very beginning, that is to be integrated onto a platform. Having acquired this knowledge, Unidef can support us in the field of machine guns. The company can add value to these armaments through the addition of accessories or various parts in every project it conducts, without exception, even when using “off-the-shelf” weapons.
We created Unidef as a structure that operates independently of SYS, and the company can cooperate even with our competitors in the field of firearms when necessary. If we had decided to carry out all of our integration activities under the umbrella of SYS, we would only have been able to integrate our weapons. Unidef, however, has its vision that is independent of SYS, and this allows it to be open to any model of cooperation in weapon integration projects involving weapons systems produced by our competitors.
Indigenous 12.7 mm Heavy Machine Gun will be Qualified by the end of 2020
MSI TDR: You said that you had started to develop a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun in 2012. Could you please tell us about the current situation in this project?
C. Utku ARAL: Our work on the development of a machine gun started in 2012, although in those years our work was all at an R&D level as the private sector had not been permitted for the production of such weapons. As our R&D work continued, our negotiations with official state authorities bore fruit, and in 2018 we were granted the first production permit in the sector from the Ministry of National Defence. In 2019, we signed the 12.7 mm Heavy Machine Gun Development Project Contract with the Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB), under which we will deliver 650 mass-produced machine guns, together with prototypes, under the CANİK brand, within the timeframe stipulated in the contract. We have completed the sixth round in the prototype production, testing, and improvement process, and having finished the works to the frame and the moving parts of the weapon, we are now looking at how to improve the barrel. We will complete the qualification tests by the end of 2020, and the first qualified and ready-to-export product will be launched at the beginning of 2021. As mass production begins slowly, our industrialisation efforts will continue throughout 2021, and in the first year, we will produce a total of 1,000 machine guns, with the intention being to increase our mass production capacity by 1,000 units each year.
In parallel with these efforts, we are working on new versions of the weapon with more advanced features.
From Gun Manufacturer to Firearms Manufacturer
MSI TDR: What will the addition of heavy machine guns to the handguns in SYS’ product range mean for SYS?
C. Utku ARAL: Evolving from a conventional handgun manufacturer into a firearm manufacturer, we will be able to take on all phases of weapon system projects, from production to integration. To mark this transformation, we started marketing the CANİK brand worldwide under the banner “Superior Firearms” instead of “Superior Handguns”.
As SYS, we are exporting our CANİK brand handguns all over the world, with an average of 80 percent of our annual turnover coming from exports, and we are officially invited by the United States government to take part in its tenders.
UNIROBOTOCIS will be the New Address for Weapon Electronics
MSI TDR: Which part the newly established UNIROBOTICS represent of the picture you just described?
C. Utku ARAL: The existence of a company specialising in the electronic side of the business was inevitable in a project in which we aimed to undertake everything related to the production and integration of a weapon system. In the various projects carried out by SYS and Unidef, there were high-tech systems that needed to be developed, and so UNIROBOTICS was established as a joint venture company of Unidef to work in areas requiring special expertise. UNIROBOTICS will operate and develop itself in the fields of electromechanics, embedded systems, software, and mechatronics, all of which will be required for integration projects.
The projects that UNIROBOTICS will undertake over the first four years have already been determined, the first of which is for the development of embedded systems that can make small arms smart. Being carried out as part of Unidef’s weapon system integration efforts, UNIROBOTICS’ projects will include the development of gun turrets installed with active stabilisers; remote control gun turrets for the land, sea, and air platforms; and weapon management systems. The fields of activity of UNIROBOTICS, however, will not be limited to systems that meet only the needs of Unidef or its partner companies. Mirroring the relationship between SYS and Unidef, a similar relationship exists between Unidef and UNIROBOTICS. UNIROBOTICS will continue working independently and will become a brand that will offer unique solutions and products that are needed also by other companies.
MECANİK Offers Accessories for any Brand
MSI TDR: What did you have in mind when you introduced the MECANİK brand?
C. Utku ARAL: The size of the market for small arms accessories in the world is at least as large as the small arms market itself. As SYS, we have been working on the design, production, supply, and qualification of accessories compatible with our CANİK brand handguns for a long time, and we have gained considerable experience in this field. This experience and the size of the accessories market led us to create a new brand in this field and to establish the CANİK official accessories brand – MECANİK. Under the MECANİK brand, we sell accessories that are compatible with all firearms equipped for the attachment of accessories around the world. Only the products of the world’s best manufacturers are covered by the MECANİK brand.
In summary, we are the only brand in the world that collects different types of accessories under a single roof. When we decide to include a product under the MECANİK brand, we have that product designed by the best designers in the world, and the accessory must be suitable for export and mass production, carrying out the qualification of these products by ourselves. MECANİK users know that they are buying accessories of the same quality as our CANİK handguns.
MSI TDR: You mentioned also CANİK Academy, CANİK Tech, CANİK Team, and CANİK News. Can you briefly describe these brands?
C. Utku ARAL: We established CANİK Academy to provide advanced tactical and medical training to official government organisations, such as military and law enforcement units. CANİK Tech, on the other hand, was established to provide technical training with CANİK weapons and accessories to everyone, from individual users to government agencies, and from maintenance units to authorised service centres. We launched the CANİK News brand to report on the activities of CANİK, providing the latest first-hand information on CANİK’s new products, and SYS’ activities at exhibitions in which it participates with the CANİK brand. Under the CANİK Team brand, which is aimed at those with no military or law enforcement training, we provide basic shooting training to civilian users, showing that even civilians who receive the right training can be a good shooter at the end of the day.
“Everything we produce must be suitable for export”
MSI TDR: What is your position in the domestic market, and how does it stand up against your initial goal?
C. Utku ARAL: We do our best to produce the solutions required by our security forces domestically, although everything we produce must be suitable for export, as in today’s competitive environment nothing we do will be sustainable if we consider only domestic needs. We always set the foreign markets as our primary goal, as if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be recording 80 percent of our turnover from exports – a figure that many companies in Turkey cannot even imagine, regardless of the sector in which they operate.
Platform not Handgun
MSI TDR: Turkey is a market with many handgun manufacturers. How does SYS stand out among its peers in this competitive market?
C. Utku ARAL: Unlike other handgun manufacturers, SYS is a company with the main contractor vision, and so we consider every product we develop to be a platform rather than a simple weapon. This allows us to take into consideration the products entire lifecycle and to plan every stage – from tactical user training to maintenance training, and from accessories to spare parts – considering the requirements of the platform. The solutions we offer to users often include these services, and our official MECANİK brand of accessories is an extension of this vision, as are the other brands we have created, such as CANİK Academy and CANİK Tech.
MSI TDR: What can you tell us about the current SYS ecosystem that you have mentioned several times since the start of the interview?
C. Utku ARAL: Our ecosystem is made up of our employees as well as our subsidiaries, the subsidiaries of our affiliates, and the dealers and authorised service providers that deliver our products to our customers. Today, this ecosystem is made up of around 1,500 people worldwide.
MSI TDR: Where does SYS stand in terms of global competition in the export market?
C. Utku ARAL: As SYS, we are exporting our CANİK brand handguns all over the world, with an average of 80 percent of our annual turnover coming from exports, and we are officially invited by the United States government to take part in its tenders. In the international tenders that we enter as the main contractor, we compete against world leaders in the field of handguns, sometimes leaving them in our wake. With our CANİK brand, we are one of only four companies in the world that are participating in every tender held by the security forces of different countries. However, unlike some of our international competitors, we will never be a company that produces 2.5 million units of middle-class handguns a year. Our goal in this field will always be to produce high-performance niche handguns at the highest quality. We are not looking to increase our handgun production to over 350,000 units per year.
Heavy Machine Gun has High Export Potential
MSI TDR: How will the completion of the development of the heavy machine gun, and the introduction of this weapon into your product range, be reflected in your export activities?
C. Utku ARAL: The 12.7 mm heavy machine gun is a weapon that everyone in the world wants to use, but that it is very difficult to obtain. There is a huge market for this weapon, especially in African and South-East Asian countries, although there are only four companies in the world that can produce such a weapon. It takes at least 90 days for international manufacturers to obtain an export license for the sale of this weapon to different countries, but with the completion of our mass production infrastructure, we want to be able to deliver within 45 days of receiving the order.
Many countries around the world currently apply the T.O.P. standard defined by the United States for the acceptance tests of 12.7 mm heavy machine guns. We are already developing, in the first phase, a weapon that has similar features to the 12.7 mm heavy machine guns in the inventory of NATO’s armies, that easily meets the T.O.P. standard and that has interchangeable parts. The export potential of this weapon will thus be very high.
MSI TDR: In your exports, does the civilian market or the armed forces and law enforcement market carry greater weight?
C. Utku ARAL: In terms of the handgun market around the world, the civilian market is always larger than the military and law enforcement markets, and for SYS this situation is no different. Civilians account for more than 50 percent of our user base, although this may change, as the civilian market fluctuates from year to year due to various socio-economic reasons. For example, this year, with the advent of the New Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), the security perception of the American public has changed dramatically, and the civil market increased significantly. This increase, however, can be expected to harm sales of all brands in the coming year, as people who purchased handguns for specific security reasons usually offer the weapons for sale on the second-hand market in the following year, thus affecting sales of new handguns. Despite this, we believe that we can turn these temporary users into a permanent part of the CANİK family thanks to our strong brand perception.
In the international tenders that we enter as the main contractor, we compete against world leaders in the field of handguns, sometimes leaving them in our wake. With our CANİK brand, we are one of only four companies in the world that are participating in every tender held by the security forces of different countries
Both Civilians and Security Forces Choose CANİK
MSI TDR: Is it harder to sell to the civilian market or the armed forces and law enforcement market?
C. Utku ARAL: The two markets come with different challenges. When you look at handgun brands around the world, you will see that the most powerful among them, like CANİK, sell to both markets regularly.
MSI TDR: So, what are the challenges when selling to the civilian market?
C. Utku ARAL: The two most important issues for civilian users are usually the performance and value of the product they are buying. If you’re not good in these areas, you won’t have a chance in the market, as a user learns about the performance of your handgun from the market, not from you. As CANİK handguns are the best in their class in terms of performance, we can easily outperform our competitors in this area. As for value, the customers want the maximum value for their money, but it’s not enough to only have low prices. For example, in the US market, the sales prices of some of the world’s most established brands are lower than those of CANİK handguns. Nevertheless, users prefer our products when the price/performance ratio is the issue, as they know that a CANİK brand handgun is a notch above in terms of quality.
MSI TDR: Similarly, what are the challenges in selling to the armed forces and law enforcement market?
C. Utku ARAL: The biggest challenge in this market is the testing process of the end-users. No matter how high-quality and durable you claim your handguns are, these tests reveal everything. In some tests, 50,000 shots can be made with a single handgun, and the results of these tests are often leaked to the press in some way, revealing failures. For this reason, some of the world’s most famous and well-established brands avoid such tests so as not to lose their brand value on the civilian side.
SYS Export Activities in Numbers
- Number of countries using CANİK-brand handguns: 88
- Total number of handguns produced by SYS to date: 2.5 million units
- Total number of handguns exported: 2 million units
- Total number of handguns sold in the US market: 1.7 million units
- Number of handguns assembled in the US: 20,000+ units
MSI TDR: When it comes to civilian users, the US market deserves special emphasis. How would you summarise the position of SYS in this market?
C. Utku ARAL: We carry out our activities in the United States through CANİK USA, which we established in 2010 in partnership with Century Arms, and have sold approximately 1.7 million handguns in this market so far. The US market records the highest number of sales worldwide and accounts for about 70 percent of our total handgun sales worldwide, including Turkey. However, SYS ranks only fourth among the international companies that export handguns to the United States, although we are seeking to take third place in a short time in the wake of the Industry Choice Awards (ICA) in the United States in which we were recognised with the Handgun of the Year award in August. Besides, SYS is one of only eight companies invited by the relevant authorities to take part in a tender for 800,000 handguns opened by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. While we did not win the tender, we were shortlisted in the last four, which was a considerable success.
The market research we conducted in the United States revealed some interesting results about the brand value of CANİK. For example, for a user who buys a CANİK handgun in this market, there is a 50% chance they will choose CANİK again. Also, three out of every 10 people who go to a US gun shop to buy a handgun and squeeze a test trigger while in the store end up opting for CANİK.
MSI TDR: So how does SYS achieve this success in such a challenging market?
C. Utku ARAL: Above all, it is the quality and performance of CANİK handguns that make it stand out. In terms of performance, it is the ergonomics of our handguns, the sighting speed, and our unique patented trigger mechanism that captures the hearts of our users. As for quality, those who buy a CANİK brand handgun know that it will work and meet his/her needs every time she/he pulls the trigger, although she/he will not make a total of 50,000 shots with the handgun. Also, US users prefer to use their handguns with accessories, and the world’s largest accessory companies are now producing special accessories for CANİK guns. Furthermore, CANİK handgun packages often include many additional accessories, such as optical sights and holsters, and when the contents of these package deals are taken into account, our products are one step ahead of the competition in terms of price/performance ratio.
Finally, we know very well that each handgun purchase in the US market is whether for tactical use, hobbies, sportive shooting, or personal safety, and we shape our products accordingly.
MSI TDR: What is the strategy of SYS as regards to foreign production?
C. Utku ARAL: We are particularly open to different collaborative joint production models in Asia, Africa, and the United States, and we are particularly interested in licensed production, carrying out production in our facilities there or through local producers.
On behalf of our readers, we would like to thank C. Utku Aral, General Manager of SYS, for taking the time to answer our questions and for providing us with such valuable information.