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Continuing domestic production without loss of momentum, and gearing up in 2021 to launch its 12.7 mm indigenously manufactured heavy machine guns, Samsun Yurt Savunma (SYS) is also engaged in intensive efforts to increase its exports. Deriving a large proportion of its turnover from exports, the company is among the top 500 exporters in Turkey according to data released by the Ministry of Trade. The company is also among the 17 companies in the defence sector included on the list of “Turkey’s Top 1,000 Exporters in 2019” compiled by the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM). Didem Aral, Foreign Trade Manager of SYS, spoke about the factors behind that success and the role played by the firm’s product and brand strategies in its export efforts.
We win the hearts and minds of our end users in the security forces through our TP9 products, which meet the requirements of all modern combat concepts. We see the TP9 product family not just as a handgun, but also as a platform, given its modular structure, its acceptance of a broad range of accessories, and the fact that all members of the family have the same control interfaces.
MSI TDR: Ms. Aral, what can you tell us about your inclusion on the list of “Turkey’s Top 1,000 Exporters in 2019”?
Didem ARAL: As SYS, we take pride in having secured the very much deserved place on TİM’s list. We are certainly excited and happy about this, but there is something else that I should mention: This is not our first achievement in the field of exports, as we have been listed among Turkey’s top 500 exporters several times by the Ministry of Trade. As regards this most recent achievement, I would like to thank the personnel assigned to that field and all of our colleagues, as it is the result of a team effort. We are proud to be rewarded for our hard work and extraordinary effort.
SYS Ranks 7th in its Field in the World
MSI TDR: When did SYS make its first export, and how have your exports evolved since then?
Didem ARAL: We exported our first product 15 years ago, and since then we have grown to become the seventh-largest manufacturer of light weapons in the world. It was, of course, not easy to reach this point. When we look back, we can see a considerable difference between our first export and our current export levels. We have come to rival the largest companies in our field in the world thanks to our use of the latest technologies in our production and R&D efforts. We were manufacturing 3,000 handguns a year in the past, but we are now manufacturing one handgun every 1.2 minutes under the CANİK brand, equating to 350,000 handguns a year. Also, we are one of the largest weapons manufacturers in the world with the capacity to manufacture also 2,000 12.7mm heavy machine guns every year.
A Platform, Not a Handgun
MSI TDR: The global firearm market can be divided into two segments: individual users and security forces. What kind of efforts does SYS have for exporting firearms to the security forces?
Didem ARAL: As you have just said, users of weapons are divided into two categories worldwide. We win the hearts and minds of our end users in the security forces through our TP9 products, which meet the requirements of all modern combat concepts. We see the TP9 product family not just as a handgun, but also as a platform, given its modular structure, its acceptance of a broad range of accessories, and the fact that all members of the family have the same control interfaces. The TP9 family is a striker-fired handgun platform with a polymer body that uses cartridges with popular calibres, including 9×19 mm and .40 S&W, and 75 percent of its components are interchangeable within the family. Thanks to its design, the TP9 family includes handguns that are suited to all mission profiles that may be encountered by military or law enforcement personnel. Thus, the TP9 targets a wide range of users and has a broad area of use, but is suited to all users due to the range of accessories that can be mounted on it, whether to suit personal defence needs or competition purposes.
MSI TDR: We will revisit the export issue later, but we would like now to touch on the subject of Turkish security forces. What is SYS offering to this market?
Didem ARAL: We are offering the TP9 METE series to our security forces, which has been developed as part of the Indigenous Local Handgun Development (ÖYTG) Project, of the Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB). The advantages of the METE series are numerous: all family members are ergonomically similar to each other, and have the logistical advantage of having a 75 percent level of interchangeability of components between all models; it can be used in both the left and right hands; and it is well suited to the mounting of accessories, as is the case for all models in the TP9 series. The METE series has earned praise as the national handgun of our security forces as a result of all these properties.
Our export drive will take on a much more exciting, fast, and dynamic form once the M2 heavy machine gun is included in the portfolio.
MSI TDR: Returning to the export issue, how does SYS approach the civilian market abroad, and in what way the approach differs from the one applied to the security forces market?
Didem ARAL: In the global handgun market it is quite difficult to gain civilian customers only through advertising and marketing, as individual users tend to pay more attention to the comments of trusted experts rather than what you tell them. Competitions organised particularly by independent bodies play a key role in user preferences, and we have been able to promote ourselves in that field through our accomplishments in the Industry Choice Awards (ICA), which are known as the Oscars of the small arms community. We have won ICA “Weapon of the Year” awards with our TP9 SFx in 2017, our TP9 Elite Combat in 2019, and our TP9 Elite SC, or TP Sub Elite, as it is known in Turkey, in 2020. Such achievements are noticed by individual users and increase the demand for our weapons in the civilian market.
Also, the availability of accessories of many different types that we have qualified as part of the “CANİK Official Accessories Program” for TP9 is a key factor in raising interest among civilian users, as we provide not only a handgun, but also all equipment necessary for personal defence or sports shooting such as a holster, belts, performance parts, and other accessories. The fact that security forces or civilian users with no expertise in this field can personally apply accessories to their TP9 handgun is a key factor when making a purchase decision.
Design Independent of Geographical Criteria
MSI TDR: Given that every geographical area has unique characteristics, what strategies does SYS pursue in its export efforts in different markets?
Didem ARAL: We cannot ignore the fact that every geographical area has its intrinsic dynamics. But we take care to ensure that both the TP9 and METE models tailored to civilian users, suit every region regardless of their geography, in recognition of the fact that “developing different configurations for different regions” is not sustainable. Thus, we design and manufacture our TP9 platforms assuming that they will be used in the harshest of climatic conditions and the most hostile environments. All mechanical components in the TP9 family are nickel-plated, and we apply a Cerakote coating in addition to the Tenifer process applied to the internal and external body, ensuring a long-lasting coating. Furthermore, we work with Mec-Gar in Italy, which is the most trusted magazine manufacturer in the world. In short, we are developing platforms and mechanical systems that offer maximum performance within a temperature range of -55 to +60 Co, and in muddy, wet, or dusty environments.
Presently, CANİK platforms are in use across a wide area that stretches from the Philippines, to Somalia, one of Africa’s most challenging climates; and from the cold climate of Alaska to the humidity of the Brazilian rain forests. Additionally, our products are also popular in a large and challenging market such as the United States. In short, our products earn praise in all markets, irrespective of geographical dynamics.
MSI TDR: Presently, SYS derives a large proportion of its turnover from exports, and this undoubtedly stems in part from the quality of the products and services that you offer. We believe, however, that there is a considerable human factor behind this achievement, with the works undertaken by you and your team playing a significant role. Can you comment on this?
Didem ARAL: It is true that almost 70 percent of our sales revenues come from exports, and that the human factor plays a crucial role in this. I cannot say that this high figure is attributable only to the management, R&D, manufacturing, sales, marketing, or business development departments. All of these teams and departments are closely connected and form a family that could be considered almost biological. Everybody, including our operators working the machining tools, our laborers, our colleagues in the quality control, our salespersons and marketers, our R&D engineers, and the top management view the company as a family. We make decisions on critical issues such as production and strategies together, based on efficient teamwork.
My export team is tasked with striving to ensure that the weapons that have been designed and manufactured as a result of lengthy and exhausting efforts are sold efficiently to the right buyers. The members of my team are performing their duties selflessly and tirelessly every day with full focus, even under the challenging conditions of the pandemic, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their effort.
TP9’s Performance Makes a Difference in Exports
MSI TDR: Can you tell us about the performance of the handguns that you manufacture under the CANİK brand?
Didem ARAL: The outstanding performance of our TP9 product family contributes most to our accomplishments in the field of exports embracing both civilian users and security forces. With its unique ergonomics, this product has been designed to suit the hands of all sizes and shapes, and all physical conditions, ensuring user comfort. Even amateur shooters can quickly aim thanks to the ergonomics of this weapon. Also, the patented sensitive trigger mechanism featured in our CANİK handguns is very much appreciated by users. Aside from these, its success in competitions organised by international independent authorities, including the ICA event, serves as proof of its superiority.
Of course, ammunition also influences weapon performance considerably, in addition to the handgun and the user, and our works also ensure that ammunition is no longer an unknown factor. We are developing solutions that ensure high performance with all types of cartridges, regardless of the weight of the bullet, known also as “grain”, and we achieve this in part by offering custom-made accessories and performance parts to suit users of all kinds as part of our CANİK Official Accessory Program.
As an example, we offer alternative recoil springs, as a component that is affected considerably by the parameters of the ammunition, ensuring consistent weapon performance for competition shooters, civilian users, or security forces. This means that a user can expect the desired performance, regardless of their preference for low-grain or high-grain cartridges.
Law enforcement agencies may need more than one type of ammunition, depending on the situation, with different requirements for special operations units, conventional units, and VIP protection units. Our users can be provided with all the equipment they need to match the objective and needs of all task profiles from the CANİK Official Accessories Program, irrespective of their units, or whether they are carrying out their tasks in the air, on land, or at sea. The Accessories Program includes products designed by and manufactured specifically for SYS, as well as the products of suppliers that are leaders in their respective fields in the global market. These products have been included in the Accessories Program and offered to the end-user only after being qualified through tests designed and specified by our R&D team. In brief, the high performance of the CANİK platforms, and personalization of all features with official accessories, ensure the popularity of the TP9 family in the international markets.
End-users Abroad Look for a Strong Brand
MSI TDR: When we consider the brand value of CANİK weapons, what can you say about the contributions of the CANİK brand to your export operations?
Didem ARAL: Entering the US light weapon market is the key to success in international markets, as is the case for different segments of the defence and aerospace sector, and all other sectors. US users attach great importance to brand value, as they know that strong brands are always more reliable. Aware of this fact, our focus was on the US market when we initiated our export drive, and we did our best to secure a lasting presence in that market, devising some innovative strategies in that process. Introducing end users to the CANİK brand has always been our priority while reaping sales profits was low on our list of priorities. We have overcome all of those challenges, becoming one of the top four foreign brands in the US market.
Our motto “A Platform, Not a Handgun” and the products offered as part of the CANİK Official Accessory Program, have been the key multipliers increasing our brand value. This is because weapons that can be personalised with accessories are greatly preferred by users in the US market. All users, including soldiers, police officers, and competition shooters, like to modify their weapons. But in the case of many other handguns manufactured around the world, you need to carry out various modifications on the gun before mounting an accessory. If those who are making such modifications are not weapon experts, with years of experience in their respective fields, the result may be a useless weapon that lacks any safety mechanisms and poses a threat to its user. Our CANİK products have been designed to be used with accessories, and the products that we offer as part of the CANİK Official Accessory Program can be easily integrated, right out of the box. Even those who are holding a gun for the first time for personal defence can carry out such assembly processes.
That said, our brand value would certainly mean nothing if the products that we offer in the US market did not outperform their rivals in terms of performance and quality.
MSI TDR: Which of your products do you consider to be the flagship of your exports?
Didem ARAL: I can say that the TP9 series is our leading export item, but what matters here is our product family approach. We have identified all of the features that a handgun user may need, and shaped the TP9 series accordingly, and have developed a TP9 model that matches all types of handguns currently in high demand around the world. We are thus dominating in all fields with these models, making the TP9 and TP9 METE series our flagships in the civilian market and security forces market respectively.
Heavy Machine Guns will Double SYS’s Exports
MSI TDR: How will machine guns affect SYS’s export operations after they come into play?
Didem ARAL: The 12.7 mm M2 heavy machine gun project will certainly carry SYS and the CANİK brand to a very different level, as we will go beyond being a firm that produces only handguns, and prove that we have the necessary capabilities and resources to produce much larger calibres, demonstrating our maturity in that field as we have in the handgun market. The M2 project has made us extremely excited, and we have put a lot of thought into it and worked hard to make it a success while making significant investments along the way. The qualification phase will conclude at the end of this year (2020), and we will start serial production and deliver the first batch of 650 units to the SSB in March 2021.
I believe that it will be beneficial to our country and nation, being a product that is imported and in demand by many different users under the Ministry of National Defence (MND) or the Ministry of Interior. Once again, we will take pride in satisfying the needs of our homeland and state through M2, as a 100 percent national and indigenous product.
We will focus directly on exports after delivering the first batch within the country, as there is a high demand for this weapon also in other countries. We believe that our exports will double once we join the ranks of the handful of manufacturers able to produce such weapons around the world. It takes at least 90 days for international manufacturers to obtain an export license for the sale of this weapon to different countries. We will, however, be able to make deliveries 45 days after receiving the order.
MSI TDR: How will your export operations be shaped in the future? What are SYS’s goals in that field?
Didem ARAL: Our export drive will take on a much more exciting, fast, and dynamic form once the M2 heavy machine gun is included in our portfolio. As the export and sales marketing team, we are eagerly awaiting the start of serial production of the M2, which will happen soon. We are very excited to see M2, a weapon with a 12.7 mm calibre becoming part of our broad product range, which started its life 8 years ago with the launch of the TP9 in 2012. We strongly believe that SYS will secure a different position for itself and change the entire equilibrium, as we will be able to manufacture both handguns and .50 cal. heavy machine guns.
In addition to that capability, the experience and capabilities gained by Unidef – as one of our subsidiaries – in the field of integration will take us to a very different level. Government authorities, in particular, attach considerable importance to satisfying all their needs in a single package, and from a single supplier. We will supply handguns, M2s, and their accessories while offering solutions for their integration under the umbrella of Unidef, and so will be meeting the needs of different states through a multi-pronged approach.
MSI TDR: Exports are a highly important issue that can be regarded as the cure sought after by the Turkish defence and aerospace sector. With this in mind, what kind of advice would you give to other companies in the sector regarding exports?
Didem ARAL: Exports are indispensable for all of our sectors. You must offer the right high-quality products if you are to be successful in exports, as it is only your products that will enable you to grow and increase your export market. It is of critical importance to prioritise platforms that are open to innovation when designing a product, to monitor leading competitors in the global market, to map out appropriate strategies and marketing methods to gain a share of their pie, to support the product with after-sales service and to provide maintenance support. SYS stands behind every CANİK handgun it has sold to date, has satisfied its customers and end-users, and has fulfilled all its responsibilities. This is actually how you add value to your brand. Aside from these factors, exports, like everything, must be sustainable. It would be unwise to believe that your task is over once the product has been sold. This is of crucial importance, particularly in products such as ours. Also, interpersonal relations, good local partners, appropriate products, and hard work are indispensable prerequisites for exports.
On behalf of our readers, we would like to thank Didem ARAL, Foreign Trade Manager of Samsun Yurt Savunma, for taking the time to answer our questions and for providing us with such valuable information.
Table 1. SYS’s 2017–2021 Exports
|Period Year||Number of Handguns Manufactured||Number of Handguns Exported||Share of Exports in Turnover|