Interview: Öner Tekin, General Manager at VESTEL Defence and AYESAŞ
“I have great ideas in store that I am certain will contribute to the development of our indigenous technologies.”
In April, Öner Tekin was appointed as the General Manager of VESTEL Defence and AYESAŞ, two important players in the Turkish defence and aerospace industry. Having developed close relations with the industry and taken part in certain projects prior to his new assignment, Tekin quickly commenced his full-time duties in defence and aerospace on the eve of preparations for IDEF 2017. We discussed with Tekin his perspective towards the industry, as well as his goals in his new assignments.
MSI TDR: Mr. Tekin, owing to your previous work at NETAŞ you are certainly no stranger to the defence and aerospace industry, but now you’ve definitely become a full-time member of the industry! So, we first would like to welcome you among us. Could you tell us about your perspective towards the industry?
Öner TEKİN: Thanks for having me! Prior to my current assignment, I have worked in different positions at NETAŞ for about 20 years; my latest role in the company was as Vice President of Technology Solutions and Operations. As you may already know, NETAŞ’ shareholders includes the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation. In addition to work in civilian areas, NETAŞ has carried out, and continues to carry out, significant projects aiming to develop national and indigenous solutions in defence. Furthermore, it also takes part in projects that indigenously develops critical systems, such as the Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system. NETAŞ is also one of the subcontractors of the 4G/LTE Communication System Development Project (ULAK), conducted by the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM), and I was actually the coordinator of this project. So I can say that, thanks to the previous assignments I assumed, and NETAŞ’ involvement in the industry, I have already become closely acquainted with the defence and aerospace industry.
Looking at the industry, we can see that it has made significant advances over past 15-year period. Our government’s policies towards increasing indigenisation and domestic contribution have really brought the Turkish defence and aerospace industry to its highpoint. Everyone now understands the importance of indigenisation and domestic contribution. Some of the problems we’ve encountered in recent times, during the procurement of certain systems, subsystems and components from abroad, have once again highlighted the importance of indigenous and national products. Everyone is aware of what must be done next, and are doing their utmost to contribute. There is, of course, much that still needs to be done; there are also certain obstacles. But looking at what has been achieved so far, there is probably no other country that has managed to increase its momentum in the defence and aerospace industry as much as Turkey has.
MSI TDR: In this overall picture, how do you see VESTEL Defence’s and AYESAŞ’ position in the industry?
Öner TEKİN: VESTEL Defence is a company that was founded in 2004 under the Zorlu Group – one of Turkey’s largest holdings – by a team with a strong belief in technology. The company began its operations by focusing on technological innovation. When we started working on unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems, we were the first and only the one to do so in Turkey. We were pioneers, as well as an example for others. With its current product portfolio, the company contributes a great deal to Turkey.
Our biggest goal is to increase the use of our UAV systems in Turkey and to export them. We are already working and conducting talks to this end. Meanwhile, we have also seen that the subject of fuel cells is very important, and decided to work in this area too. We have even started to come up with our own products. Right now, VESTEL Defence stands as a leading company working on advanced technology in Turkey.
Looking at AYESAŞ, we see a company that the Turkish defence and aerospace industry particularly needs: It is a medium-sized enterprise that carries out various activities, such as system integration; but, despite its medium size, it has a very large group behind it. It is a company that not only has its own product portfolio, but can also carry out the high quality activities, associated with various processes, that are required by platform integrators. Its capabilities enable it to provide all the types of system integration and subtechnology services needed for indigenisation purposes. It has extensive skills, stretching back over many years, in the design, testing and integration of high reliability software and hardware. Furthermore, for any major project, it has a flexible structure that can expand and grow very quickly in the areas where it operates. With these attributes, AYESAŞ has an essential position for the industry’s platform integrator giants, serving as an important bridge between small-scale companies and large platform integrators.
There is also something else I would like to point out here. You had said that I made a quick start, or entry, into the industry. On April 20, at the Ordinary General Assembly of the Defence and Aerospace Industry Manufacturers Association (SaSaD), I was also expeditiously assigned as a Member of the Board at the association. At that same meeting, Fikri Işık, the Minister of National Defence, highlighted an important point and issued a call. He emphasised that a healthy supply pyramid is needed to ensure the consistent growth of the industry; that Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) need support to develop; and that medium-sized companies have generally not been able to achieve sufficient growth. Making a call to the large platform integrators, the Minister asked them not to view SMEs as rivals, but to make greater use of them while also assisting their development. Companies like VESTEL Defence and AYESAŞ belong precisely to the group of enterprises the Minister is referring to. In this healthy supply pyramid the Minister mentions, we are ready to dedicate all our skills and infrastructure to providing strong support to the big players at the upper levels of the pyramid.
MSI TDR: From a corporate and organisational standpoint, VESTEL Defence and AYESAŞ are quite different companies. What kind of synergy do you expect to create from these companies?
Öner TEKİN: Actually, even though these companies are working in different areas, they are, at the end of the day, operating in the same industry. When two such companies are managed from a single centre, you’ll get much better results in terms of time, efficiency and quality. As far as I have seen and examined, the collaboration between VESTEL Defence and AYESAŞ has always been able to ensure better results. So we intend to carry this synergy even further.
MSI TDR: Do you have any personal, concrete objectives for the coming period?
Öner TEKİN: There are many great things that have been done at both VESTEL Defence and AYESAŞ until now, and an excellent potential has been created. Now is the time to use this potential to achieve more growth. To be clear, our goal is to utilise this potential so that we can gain a greater role in both domestic projects and the export markets. We already have an infrastructure in place that would allow us to achieve these goals. We’ll be working diligently to quickly realise our goals in the short term.
MSI TDR: When you say short term, what kind of a time frame are we speaking of?
Öner TEKİN: Essentially, all the things I’m talking about should have already been done yesterday… That’s why we have to move really fast. In fact, the company is doing quite well when it comes to growth and rapid progress. We are aiming for a very substantial growth rate.
MSI TDR: During this period, will VESTEL Defence’s product range continue to expand?
Öner TEKİN: Absolutely. I have great ideas in store that I am certain will contribute to the development of our indigenous technologies. At VESTEL Defence, our vision is to have a product family in the field of UAVs. We’ve even started a feasibility study for this. We’ll have a really different UAV portfolio. Plus, we’ll make VESTEL Defence capable of operating in different areas of the industry.
Investments to Continue
MSI TDR: Among these activities you mention, will VESTEL Defence engage in new investments?
Öner TEKİN: In point of fact, the right answer to this question is “Will VESTEL Defence continue to make investments?” The Zorlu Group, with which VESTEL Defence is affiliated, is a holding that truly believes in Turkey; that has invested time and again for this country; that has developed indigenous technologies and products in Turkey; and which has broken export records. The Group is well aware that the defence industry represents a highly critical area, which is why it wants to contribute as much as it can. To respond to Turkey’s needs through our own capabilities, we allocated funds to arming our UAVs, in collaboration with a leading ammunition manufacturer in our industry. The test flights were executed successfully. This achievement is truly a source of pride for Turkey. As you may observe, we have made significant investments in the industry so far, for which we haven’t yet seen any tangible returns. But the Zorlu Group continues, with great dedication, to invest in these areas, with the aim of developing indigenous products and reducing Turkey’s external dependence.
Of course, I also would like to point out here that some of the policies in the industry need to be reviewed. Looking back, we see that certain things have, in the past, been hampered by obstructions of bureaucratic nature. We ran into various problems during our projects because of this. But despite having encountered such problems, we continue to believe both in our goals and ourselves. We are doing everything we can to overcome all kinds of obstacles. We also expect support from the Turkish state on this subject.
MSI TDR: At this point, as there is an uncertainty about KARAYEL UAV’s future with TAF, we would like to ask you about your thoughts on the KARAYEL UAV.
Öner TEKİN: Turkey is working to develop its defence and aerospace industry, and our company is one that has, in the end, succeeded in acquiring the technologies our country has lacked in the past. We believe that all these technological gains, acquired following much hard work and processes, should not be so hastily wasted or ignored… We have nearly 150 brilliant engineers whose work and motivation has been left out to dry, so to speak.
Of course, as the stakeholders, we are the ones who will resolve these issues… Right now, speaking on behalf of all the parties involved, I can say that we want to solve this issue in good faith. We now have 10 aircraft that have been used by the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) as part of its procurement programme. And thank goodness, in over 3,000 flight hours, we’ve seen great accuracy and success, with not even a single accident being recorded. We are still holding meetings to reach a solution. The bureaucracy has also approached this issue constructively. All in all, what is in question here is a UAV – a national asset – that has met all the basic requirements that were expected of it, and proven its worth with more the 3,000 hours of successful mission flights… We believe that the state will assist us in this issue. So what we want is to continue our work with greater motivation, and to come up with even better things for the TAF and the defence industry.
MSI TDR: Turkey has an ambitious goal of $25 billion in defence, aerospace and security industry exports by 2023. How will VESTEL Defence and AYESAŞ contribute to this goal?
Öner TEKİN: As you already know, VESTEL’s slogan is “Proudly Local”. To achieve the goals you speak of, there are two things that need to be done. First, there is a need to support indigenous products and production. And secondly, after adding these products to our country’s inventory, we have to export them. We had a fairly similar situation in the ULAK project. They sometimes ask us: “Why don’t you just go and sell this product abroad?” But when we go to foreign markets, they ask us: “Are the operators in your country who are using this?” How can I perform any sales abroad if the answer to this question is not positive? Eventually, we received the first purchase orders for the ULAK in Turkey, and we will now be able to market it abroad more assertively. The same approach needs to be shown towards all products in the industry.
To achieve the 2023 goals, there is a need for a higher level strategy. The work has already started on this. We believe there should be a general strategy for export incentives, as well as a credit mechanism. That is because regardless of how competitive your pricing may be, you may still lose a tender to a competitor that offers credit. I have actually seen this happen in a number of industries.
MSI TDR: Turkey has the ambitious TF-X project on the horizon. How may VESTEL Defence and AYESAL contribute to this project?
Öner TEKİN: We have a mature product family and well-established capabilities in our area of activity. Looking from the angle of the TF-X, we have significant experience and infrastructure, not only on avionic software and hardware, but also on electronic card design and production, indicators, control panels, high-quality harness design and production, and the integration of all these components. Our structure is suitable for expansion; we can grow rapidly whenever a new production line, know-how or system is needed. We have infrastructure that is well-suited to providing rapid services, in any area, to the platform integrators of the aerospace industry. But above all else, we have the support of the Zorlu Group behind us, which, through the VESTEL company, has a critical capability infrastructure for producing nearly 50 million electronic cards a year.
MSI TDR: Is there anything you would like to add?
Öner TEKİN: MSI TDR is a publication I have been following for many years with great pleasure. I would like to thank you most sincerely for this publication that closely follows and keeps us up-to-date regarding developments in the industry.
I am a firm believer in advanced technology and in national and indigenous systems. I like taking steps that are ground breaking, and that is why I have assumed office in these two ground breaking companies. For the coming period, I hope to take part in work and activities that will contribute to the development of the industry.
On behalf of our readers, we would like to thank Öner Tekin, General Manager at VESTEL Defence and AYESAŞ, for taking the time to answer our questions and for providing us with such valuable information.
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