Turkey’s indigenous vehicle manufacturer BMC has finally found a foreign source for their Altay main battle tank’s powertrain, with two South Korean firms stepping up to supply engines and transmissions, per Defense News.
Turkey fields an eclectic mix of tanks, with large numbers of 1950s-era American M48 and M60 Patton tanks that feature extensive upgrades to their fire control, situational awareness, and armor, as well as large numbers of older German Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 main battle tanks. Turkey’s ancient American tanks somewhat expectedly did not fare so well during a 2016 Turkish incursion into Syria, which saw about twelve of the Cold War-era tanks destroyed by anti-tank missiles.
Somewhat surprisingly however, anti-tank missiles, mines, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) took out a number of Ankara’s Leopard 2s as well. Though the best of Turkey’s tanks are Leopard 2s, they are an older 2A4 variant that relies on a square-shaped turret which offers less protection than newer Leopard 2 variants fielded by Germany and several other Leopard 2 operators. Their losses on Syrian battlefields may have injected a fresh sense of urgency into Turkey’s domestic tank ambitions.
Ankara’s Altay main battle tank is rather unremarkable when compared to other contemporary tank designs. Like almost all of its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) peers, the Altay sports a 120mm German-designed Rheinmetall main gun, as well as a .50 caliber heavy machine gun and a 7.62 medium machine gun. Unlike every other armored vehicle in the world however, it lacks an engine and transmission.
Turkey has struggled to fabricate a power pack domestically and would have liked to use a German-designed engine and transmission to power their tank, though Turkey’s hopes for a high-quality German power pack were scuttled due to a German arms embargo on Turkey following Ankara’s military excursion into Syria.
Turkey’s Altay reportedly draws some design features and possibly components from South Korea’s K2 main battle tank, a fascinating platform that is one of the most advanced main battle tank designs in existence. Like Turkey, South Korea has struggled to fabricate reliable transmissions for their K2, sourcing transmissions from RENK, a German firm and mating them to domestically produced engines. And despite the German arms embargo on Turkey, Ankara would like to have access to those German transmissions. In order to provide Turkey access however, South Korea would have to either remove or modify the German components in their power packs, to not run afoul of Berlin’s weapons embargo.
So despite firm affirmation from Ankara that the Altay tank is a purely domestic design, the patchwork South Korean-German-Turkish tank may finally enter service in the near future. National origins aside, the Frankenstein’s monster could actually be a decent main battle tank, if it is able to source the necessary German components from South Korea.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.