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Interview

Designing and Developing Vehicle Concepts of the Future While Building Permanent Partnerships with Reliable Local Contribution

In this exclusive interview, we talk with FNSS General Manager & CEO Nail KURT about the Company’s past and future roadmap

Issue 93

Defence Turkey: This year, FNSS Savunma Sistemleri A.Ş. celebrates its 30th anniversary. While it has become a global brand in land systems, FNSS has also become one of the major suppliers of the Turkish Armed Forces in land combat system solutions. Can we start our interview with an evaluation of 2018 for FNSS?  What can you say about the company’s goals and expectations for 2019? Are there any new business acquisitions or business partnerships on the horizon? 

Nail KURT: Our turnover of US$357 Million in 2018 was the highest sales performance we have achieved so far. Approximately 80% of this turnover was export sales. In parallel with the increase in our revenue, the number of our employees also now exceeds 1,000. 

We continue our design and production activities in Turkey with the Marine Assault Vehicle (MAV), Anti-tank Vehicle (ATV), and KORKUT projects. In addition, despite fierce competition, we also signed a contract with the SSB to procure 12 highly equipped Pars 6x6 vehicles for the Special Forces Command. Furthermore, we signed the Special Purpose Tactical Wheeled Armored Vehicles (SPTWAV) contract for a total of 100 Pars Scout vehicles.

Our Saudi Arabia 120mm Mortar, Oman Wheeled Armored Combat Vehicle (WACV), and Malaysia AV-8 projects in the Middle East and the Far East continue without a problem. We have successfully completed the qualification phase of the medium-weight class tank KAPLAN MT, which was developed jointly with the Indonesian manufacturer PT Pindad, and we signed the first phase of the serial production contract at IDEF’ 19.

In 2018, we also participated in the Turquality program. Within the scope of this support program, the Minister of Trade offers incentives for advertisement, marketing, and institutionalization projects & investments, which will further strengthen the export success of our company. 

We aim to sign new contracts in 2019 both at home and abroad. Naturally, these sales will not be reflected in the turnover immediately. Our 2019 sales will be based on the contracts we signed in prior years. We expect to achieve similar performance to last year’s performance in 2019. Moreover, we continuously make significant investments in R&D projects to expand our product portfolio, increase our technological capabilities and localize our products/subsystems. We will continue our efforts on these activities without slowing down in 2019 as well. 

FNSS is a joint venture company between Nurol Holding A.Ş. and BAE Systems. For companies of this nature, establishing new business partnerships or acquiring other companies are important issues, which require the participation of all shareholders. Because of our ongoing projects in Oman and Malaysia, we are considering our options to establish companies in these countries. On the other hand, we are aware that consolidation, acquisitions, and investing in small technology companies are among the most important tools of strategy implementation. These transactions are usually done to access technology, access markets, to keep in close contact with the customer and to ensure efficiency or achieve different synergies. We follow these developments closely to seize opportunities as they arise. 

Defence Turkey: Could you inform us about FNSS’s cooperation activities with sub-industries and universities? Can you share information about the number of local subcontractors currently working with FNSS?

Nail KURT: Our R&D department’s vision is to support the corporate strategy by leveraging the product portfolio strategy and receiving guidance from the technology roadmap. Determining and prioritizing the necessary technologies required to achieve the designated properties of a target product is the basis of the technology roadmap process. Critical outputs are the results of necessary technology investments, technology prioritizations, short and medium-term R&D strategies, action plans, core competency determination, and potential strategic technology development partnership decisions with the sub-industry. In this context, various R&D activities are carried out with the sub-industry in five basic technology areas such as material & design, survivability, mobility, electronics, and firepower. These R&D activities are supported by industry participation/offset transactions such as Category-A, Category-B, and Category-C to improve the abilities and capabilities of domestic sub-industry companies and increase their international competitiveness through investments and projects. FNSS has 678 actively certified local suppliers.

University-industry collaboration is one of the most important issues of the FNSS R&D Center. Starting university-industry collaboration projects such as SAYP, SANTEZ, ARDEB, and using the output of these projects in FNSS products is an important part of the FNSS R&D strategy. In this context, FNSS signed approximately 20 SAYP protocols with universities to date. Moreover, regular visits to university Technology Transfer Offices to inform about the technologies prioritized by the FNSS technology roadmap provide opportunities for developing joint projects focused on university-industry collaboration. As a result, FNSS receives academic consultancy from various universities and hires services in the areas needed. Through these meetings and related activities, FNSS aims to increase successful university-industry collaboration activities year over year.

Defence Turkey: What are your assessments on FNSS’ competitive capacity in the domestic and international markets?

Nail KURT: FNSS is a medium-sized defence industry company with two strong joint-venture partners like Nurol Holding and BAE Systems. Both Turkish and foreign identity enrich our corporation structure and this gives us a distinct advantage in different markets. Using our Turkish identity, we have signed numerous export programs with Muslim countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. We also seek business opportunities in European and South American markets with the support of BAE Systems. As we are a medium-sized company, we can make highly flexible decisions and respond to the requests of our customers in every possible way. The vehicles and configurations we have developed specific to the customer requirements in our export programs are the best examples of this. 

Defence Turkey: What can you tell us about FNSS’s ongoing major export activities, its most important export markets and the share of exports in turnover?

Nail KURT: As it is known, FNSS is the export leader of land combat platforms in the Turkish Defence Industry and has achieved many firsts in this field. The Middle and the Far East are among the most important export markets for FNSS.  We are working on potential export projects for both Tracked and Wheeled Armored Vehicles in these regions. We have ongoing projects in Malaysia, the Sultanate of Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. During IDEF’ 19, we signed a preliminary agreement with our business partner PT-Pindad for the joint serial production of KAPLAN Medium Weight Tanks in Indonesia. The development process of the KAPLAN-MT has been completed successfully within the framework of a joint development project with Indonesia. Additionally, we also continue our business development activities in other regions where we see potential such as in Latin America.

So far, FNSS has exported complete vehicle systems to seven countries plus subsystems, parts, and services to many more countries. The volume of our export projects to date has exceeded US$2.6 Billion. FNSS will continue to export to new countries in the future as well.

FNSS has generated almost all of its revenues from exports for many years. Currently, the share of exports in our turnover is around 70%.

Defence Turkey: What is the current situation of the comprehensive M113 Modernization in Saudi Arabia? How many vehicles have been modernized to what level since 2004? Can you share information about the price of the contracts signed so far? How do you plan to use the experience gained from this project in the future?

Nail KURT: When the Royal Saudi Armed Forces decided to modernize its various types of M113 Armored Personnel Carriers, FNSS provided both an effective solution and delivered this solution in Saudi Arabia by undertaking the operation of the Al-Kharj Maintenance and Repair facilities of the Royal Saudi Land Forces. During the process that started in 2004, more than 1,000 M113s in various configurations have been modernized to M113A4 level with consecutive contracts. The total value of the projects has exceeded US$1 Billion. 120mm mortar integration project for the modernized vehicles is currently underway. If the Royal Saudi Land Forces decide to modernize more vehicles, FNSS can modernize the unmodified M113 vehicles remaining in the inventory with an even higher local production commitment. 

Defence Turkey: Currently, there is a successful ongoing cooperation between FNSS and Malaysia. This collaboration, which started with the ADNAN project, continues today with the PARS-II/AV8 Gempita (Storm) Family vehicle project that we carry out together with DRB-HICoM DefTech for the Malaysian Army. What can you tell us about the current state of this project including the number and configurations of the vehicles delivered to date?

Nail KURT: Currently, 160 vehicles have been delivered in the Malaysia AV-8 Gempita project, which includes the development, production, and delivery of 257 8x8 Wheeled Armored Vehicles in 12 configurations. Design activities of 11 configurations out of the 12 configurations have been completed. Nine different configurations have already entered the service and the other two configurations will be added to the inventory this year. These vehicle configurations include, the Infantry Fighting Vehicle equipped with the FNSS 25mm Sharpshooter Turret, the Armored Fighting Vehicle equipped with the LCT 30 two-man turret manufactured by Denel Land Systems with a GI30 30mm gun and a 7.62mm coaxial Machine Gun, the Armored Reconnaissance/Surveillance Vehicle, Armored Command Vehicle, Armored Personnel Carrier equipped with a 12.7mm remote-controlled weapon station, Armored Ambulance, Armored Repair Vehicle (ARV), 120 mm Armored Mortar Carrier (AMC), and the Armored CBRN Reconnaissance Vehicle  (AENBCRV).

Defence Turkey: Under the US$500 Million contract signed on September 20, 2015, FNSS delivered the first of 172 new-generation PARS-III 6x6 and 8x8 Tactical Wheeled Armored Vehicles to be developed and produced for the Royal Army of Oman/RAO on July 12, 2017, at a ceremony held in Gölbaşı, Ankara. What can you share about the current situation of the project and the vehicles delivered to date?

Nail KURT: The production and deliveries of the vehicles as part of our project for the Sultanate of Oman successfully continue following the project schedule. Within the scope of the project, PARS III 6x6 and 8x8 vehicles are manufactured in 13 different configurations. More than 60 vehicles have been delivered up to now, and this number will exceed 100 by the end of the year. These vehicle configurations include the Reconnaissance and Command vehicle with the FNSS 25mm SABER turret, 120mm Mortar Carrier, Armored Engineering Vehicle, Armored Recovery Vehicle, Armored Ambulance, and Armored Personnel Carriers.

Defence Turkey: What can you tell us about the current situation and the projected delivery schedules of the Anti-Tank Vehicle (KAPLAN-ATV, and PARS-ATV) projects which were signed in 2016? It was previously stated that the deliveries will start at the beginning of 2019.

Nail KURT: Qualification tests for KAPLAN ATV and PARS ATV are in progress, and the first vehicles will be delivered at the end of 2019. We are developing another configuration of our KAPLAN ATV for the Pedestal Mounted CİRİT project signed by Roketsan with the SSB, and we will deliver it together with the first Anti-Tank Vehicles.

Defence Turkey: The initial ATV design had 4 OMTAS and KORNET-E anti-tank missiles on its turret, however, the prototype vehicles were equipped with a dual launcher turret. What was the reason behind this design change decision? According to our information, the number of missiles carried on the vehicle was reduced from 10 to 6. 

Nail KURT: We started the project with a turret carrying four missiles, however, during the design review phase both the ready-to-fire missiles on the turret and the number of missiles carried inside the vehicle was changed in line with the operational requirements of the end-user. 

Defence Turkey: Could you enlighten our readers about the technical specifications and test and delivery schedules of the Marine Assault Vehicle (MAV) that will be designed and produced from scratch according to the user requirements stated under the contract signed in March 2017? 

Nail KURT: Currently, we are at the Critical Design Review (CDR) phase, and in this project, we reflected the manner of FNSS. The design review will be done not only on paper but also on the vehicle prototype in the integration hall. We are going through a long internal verification process with this prototype vehicle. There are unprecedented requirements for a tracked land vehicle in this project. The vehicle is expected to act as a vessel at sea, and show standard tracked APC performance on the ground. We will verify all these requirements with 5 prototype vehicles that will run different tests in parallel.

Defence Turkey: The Defence Industry Executive Committee (SSİK), which convened under the chairmanship of President Recep Tayyip ERDOĞAN on October 10, 2018, decided to initiate contract negotiations with FNSS in the Special Purpose Tactical Wheeled Armoured Vehicles (SPTWAV) Project for the procurement of 6x6 Command and Radar Vehicles, 8x8 Sensor and CBRN Reconnaissance Vehicles for the Turkish Land Forces, and 6x6 Armored Combat Vehicles for the Gendarmerie General Command. What can you tell us about the total of 100 6x6 and 8x8 vehicles in 5 different models which will be based on the PARS WAV? Could you share information about the vehicles, delivery schedules, and contract that will also include the FNSS production turret?

Nail KURT: The Special Purpose Tactical Wheeled Armored Vehicle (SPTWAV) Project Agreement was signed with the Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB) in April for a total of 100 8x8 and 6x6 vehicles to be delivered to the Turkish Land Forces Command and the Gendarmerie General Command, and the signing ceremony was held at IDEF’ 19. Once the contract goes into effect, we will complete the development of the vehicles in three years and deliver all the vehicles. 

Within the scope of the SPTWAV Project, FNSS designed a new vehicle based on the PARS family to provide high situational awareness, especially during reconnaissance operations. PARS Scout 6x6 and 8x8 provide superior mobility for comfortable and safe driving in all kinds of roads and terrain conditions, stable driving at high speeds with low risk of understeer and with its transparent armor (ballistic glass) integration, it makes a difference for reconnaissance operations. Furthermore, domestic subsystems will be used in basic automotive and mission equipment such as the engine developed by TÜMOSAN and the powertrain developed by FNSS.

Defence Turkey: KAPLAN-10 ATV was selected as the carrier vehicle for the 3 Pedestal Mounted CİRİT (PMC) System ordered under the contract signed between Roketsan and Turkish Land Forces. Have you completed the deliveries of the vehicles?

Nail KURT: The production contract for the KAPLAN-10 ATV vehicles, selected as carrier vehicles for three Pedestal Mounted CİRİT (PMC) Systems, was signed between FNSS and Roketsan in August 2017. The production activities of the vehicles are currently underway, and they are expected to be delivered to Roketsan between December 2019 and February 2020.  

Defence Turkey: The concept design of the Medium Weight Tank (MWT) KAPLAN-MT, which was developed in cooperation with the Indonesian state-owned enterprise PT Pindad to meet the needs of the Indonesian Army, was launched on November 2-5, 2016 at the Indo Defence 2016 Fair held in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. The prototype vehicle, which was exhibited at IDEF 2017, was sent to Indonesia for testing in September 2017 and participated in the parade held on October 5, 2017, as part of the 72nd Indonesian National Armed Forces Day. What can you tell us about the feedback received and the activities carried out in 2018 with KAPLAN-MT called Harimau? 

Nail KURT: Kaplan MT, which has the highest level of ballistic and mine/blast protection in its class, provides superior survivability and mobility in the battlefield with high firepower and rapid threat response time. In 2018, we carried out extensive tests in Indonesia. The blast/mine resistance tests, which are the first phase of the qualification tests, were carried out in Indonesia in July 2018. The co-produced mine-resistant prototype vehicle successfully passed all the tests and met all the requirements set by the customer. In August 2018, we conducted the durability and firing tests of our Kaplan MT. The 20-day durability test was carried out in the different and rough terrain conditions of Java Island both day and night, and our vehicle was tested for more than 2000 km. The tests were conducted by the Indonesian Army and Ministry of Defence Personnel. The Kaplan MT completed all tests successfully and achieved the highest numbers in its class during both field and road tests. The KAPLAN MT became the first Medium Weight Class Tank, which was certified by the armed forces of a country in the world. The Indonesian Army and the Ministry of Defence were extremely satisfied with the successful performance of the vehicle. 

Defence Turkey: Is the serial production contract expected to be signed in 2019? How many MWT vehicles will be built during the Serial Production Period?

Nail KURT: The joint serial production agreement between PT-Pindad and FNSS was signed at IDEF’ 19. The first batch of serial production will be mutually determined according to the requests and planning of the Ministry of Defence. We envisage it will be 18 vehicles. We predict that the second batch requirement is 106 vehicles in different configurations, and the budget studies are still ongoing.

Defence Turkey: As FNSS, you are fighting on many fronts at the same time abroad. What difficulties do you face in terms of employment and logistics?

Nail KURT: As a company, we anticipated the complex working environment that includes multiple products, multiple projects, and production in more than one country, and we implemented plans that will prepare us for today. We have prepared our Company by continuously training our personnel, developing our processes, and improving our infrastructure, facilities, and capabilities. Constantly searching for better methods, improving in every field, and managing change at the same time form the basis of our core business philosophies. 

The knowledge and experience we have gained from overseas projects over the last 20 years have contributed to us significantly. Undoubtedly, new projects have some challenges, but we know how to overcome these difficulties by working hard and using our experience. 

Defence Turkey: Can you find adequate support in terms of local qualified personnel and sub-industry in your overseas activities?

Nail KURT: In our overseas projects, the possibility of finding local qualified personnel and capable sub-industry varies from country to country. The projects that we carry out abroad generally comprise production activities such as know-how, technology transfer, and localization. Within the framework of these projects, we provide necessary training to the personnel of our business partners in the related countries and support the infrastructure installation activities. We also carry out studies to identify, qualify, and improve the production activities of sub-industry companies that will assist in local production. We both start and run these activities with a core team that we establish at the beginning of the projects. Therefore, the projects continue with increasing local employment through both theoretical and on-the-job training for local personnel. In some countries, this process may be longer, and in others, it may be shorter.

Defence Turkey: Can you make an overall assessment of the future of the tracked and tactical wheeled armored vehicle industry which has made great progress in the last 25 years in Turkey? In this context, how does FNSS position itself?

Nail KURT:  The Turkish land vehicle industry has reached a significant point. It became a highly specialized sector with intense competition between private companies, and it has the competence to meet all kinds of land vehicle requirements of our soldiers with national and cost-effective solutions. Moreover, our industry can sign significant export contracts. I believe that as long as we do not make strategic mistakes, this performance of the sector will continue increasingly.

If we look at our turnover and export performance since the day we were founded, I can proudly say that FNSS is the leading land-based defence systems company in Turkey. The number of our vehicles in the Turkish Armed Forces service, the diversity of our vehicle portfolio, and the fact that we have signed export contracts over US$2.5 Billion to date are the most important indicators of this. We delivered 2,249 Armored Combat Vehicles in four different configurations to the Turkish Land Forces Command. These vehicles still form the backbone of our infantry units. We designed and delivered highly niche vehicles, which require high engineering capabilities, such as the SAMUR (OTTER) Rapid Deployable Amphibious Assault Bridge and the KUNDUZ (AACE) Armored Amphibious Combat Earthmover. The TAF is very satisfied with both vehicles and utilize them in operations. PARS 4X4 and KAPLAN-ATV, which were developed as part of the Anti-Tank Vehicle project, Marine Assault Vehicle (MAV), and the ZMA30, which is based on the HİSAR platform, are also to enter the inventory. With the PARS 6X6 and SPTWAV projects of the Special Forces Command, FNSS will develop the first domestic 6x6 and 8x8 wheeled armored vehicles that will be included in the TAF’s inventory.

We are also preparing for other future projects. One of the most important among these is the New Generation Armored Fighting Vehicle (NG-AFV) project. In this context, we closely follow the SSB’s studies on the procurement model based on the prototype competition model, and we are making preparations in this direction. A competitive prototyping approach allows the users to evaluate the performance of the solutions and ensures that the final product meets their expectations. For a long time, FNSS has participated in tests, in various parts of the world, competing against the products of the world’s largest defence companies. In these competitions, our products allowed us to sign export contracts by leaving strong competitors behind. I believe that we will be quite successful in future projects with this approach in our country.  

Defence Turkey: Can you share your thoughts on the importance of R&D in the tracked and tactical wheeled armored vehicles industries? What can you say about the resources you have allocated to R&D as an organization and the R&D activities you are currently carrying out? Are you working on new tracked/wheeled armored vehicles?

Nail KURT: Tracked and wheeled armored vehicles are the backbone of the armies around the world. There is serious competition between domestic and foreign companies in this field. In this competitive environment, it is highly crucial to correctly understand the needs of customers, meet these requirements on time, and change the game with the technologies that make a difference. Therefore, R&D and Technology development activities are extremely important in terms of system and subsystem capabilities. FNSS devotes approximately 3-4% of its annual turnover to self-financed R&D activities. As in the past years, we will carry out more than 40 “big and small” R&D projects of various sizes in 2019 as well. 

Defence Turkey: Are there any studies for the half-life modernization of the FNSS products ACV-15 APC, AAPC and IFV platforms in the inventory?

Nail KURT: Within the scope of the IFV-AAPC Modernization Project initiated by the SSB, we have submitted our proposal for the modernization of the IFVs and AAPCs in the inventory of the Turkish Land Forces Command (TLFC). The offer includes improved mobility, increased firepower, upgraded electronic subsystems, and increased survivability. This solution package aims to increase the lifecycle of the vehicle by 20 years by providing optimum firepower and survivability without performance loss despite the increased weight due to additional requirements to be added to the vehicle. In addition to the integration of additional electronic subsystems, FNSS will use qualified equipment and subsystems that are already in the inventory of the Turkish Armed Forces for improved logistics performance. As part of the modernization package, ballistic & mine/blast protection of the vehicles will be increased, some critical parts of the tracks will be replaced, the electrical system will be completely renewed with existing technological systems and the powertrain will be overhauled. Furthermore, the vehicles will be integrated with a completely new turret. The feedback of Turkish Armed Forces’  during the cross-border operations in Syria demonstrated that there was a need for IFV modernization. We started our studies in this context. 

Defence Turkey: Can you share information about FNSS’s ongoing studies on Remote-Controlled Turret Systems and export-oriented marketing activities? Under the 25/30mm Remote Remote-Controlled Turret (RCT) Project, which was initiated with a joint product development cooperation protocol signed with Aselsan in March 2008, you developed Pençe RCT and made it ready for sale following the firing tests. FNSS exhibited the SABER-25 New Generation Stabilized Weapon System at IDEF 2015, the TEBER-30 Two-Man Turret System at IDEF 2017 and the TEBER-30 RCT at IDEX 2019 Fair. What can you tell us about the current situation of the aforementioned turret projects, the tests performed and/or to be performed, and the potential customers of the systems?

Nail KURT: For many years, the Sharpshooter turrets were delivered to various users in different variants by increasing their ballistic protection level and equipping them with different caliber weapons. In 2015, we added one-man SABER-25 and two-man TEBER-30 turrets to our manned turret product family. As a result of procurement authorities’ preference for unmanned turrets, we manufactured our KORNET and OMTAS Anti-Tank Remotely Controlled Turret (ARCT) within the scope of the Anti-Tank Vehicle project. While designing the dual-armed remote-controlled weapon system for the MAV project, we also developed the FNSS-RCWS, which can be used with 3 different types of weapons. The FNSS-RCWS was developed for two different projects, one domestic and one foreign. While designing our indigenous weapon systems for our vehicles, we proceed with two-way feedback in both turret and vehicle designs by paying maximum attention to vehicle weight distribution, amphibious capabilities, suspension system effects, roof rigidity parameters. Carrying out the turret and vehicle design process in parallel with each other allows for a smooth and easy integration phase. Therefore, we can deliver turnkey projects to our customers with cost-effective solutions. 

Oman Project: 88 SABER-25 were delivered.

Oman Project: 16 RCWS will be delivered.

ATV Project: 64 ARCT-KORNET will be delivered.

ATV Project: 196 ARCT-OMTAS will be delivered.

MAV Project: 26 dual RCWS will be delivered.

Defence Turkey: Could you share your vision, goals, and expectations for the next 20 years of FNSS with our readers?

Nail KURT: FNSS conducts activities by focusing on protecting our customers & partners and adding value to them by providing creative solutions. By increasing our performance in defence system exports to even higher levels, we aim to be a reliable and notable Turkish defence company not only in our country but also across the world.

While meeting the needs of the Turkish Armed Forces, which is our top priority, with the most effective systems, we continue to offer the best to our users in the Middle East and East Asian countries as well. We consider user satisfaction as a long-term investment. It is highly critical for us to become a key player in the markets where we do business by establishing reliable partnerships, which enable our products to provide new solutions to the needs that may arise during their life cycle. Additionally, we follow significant business opportunities abroad as well as in different geographies. 

As a national value of Turkey, we have successfully delivered more than 4,000 armored combat vehicles to date. We have a wide range of products ranging from tracked armored vehicles to medium-weight class tanks, from 4x4 to 8x8 tactical wheeled armored vehicles, from amphibious assault bridges to armored engineering vehicles as well as manned and unmanned turrets. However, the combat environment of the future will change considerably with the technological advancements in the defence and civilian sectors. As FNSS, our goal is to design and develop the vehicle concepts of the future. We shape our product portfolio and technology roadmap in line with these developments.  

Our goals are quite big, and we are advancing on these goals step by step with the right strategies as in the past.

Defence Turkey: Thank you for your time