Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan gives a thumbs-up sign from the cockpit of the Turkish Primary and Basic Trainer Aircraft "Hurkus" during a ceremony at the Turkish Aerospace Industries in Ankara June 27, 2012. Erdogan took an early lead in Turkey's first direct presidential election. Reuters/Umit Bektas

NATO-member Turkey has long been a purchaser of Western weapons, but the country raised eyebrows last year when it announced a $4 billion deal with a Chinese firm to co-develop a missile defense system, rejecting offers from Russian, U.S. and European defense companies. And while Turkey is still a major purchaser of Western military hardware, and has to Russia’s chagrin welcomed NATO missile defense systems in its territory, it’s rising in the ranks as a major arms exporter in its own right.

The country is trying to boost exports by $1.6 billion this year by focusing on markets that can’t afford the premium-grade offers from the world’s top defense companies. “Our defense industry aims to secure contracts soon in South American and African markets,” Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said in a written statement to the country’s parliament on Friday, according to Defense News.

With virtually no domestic arms manufacturing and dozens of regional conflicts, Africa is certainly a lucrative market for the arms trade. Four of the continent’s 55 countries doubled defense spending between 2003 and 2013, led by Algeria, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. More data shows countries in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa increased defense spending between 5 percent and 10 percent last year compared to 2012.

Turkey’s two defense companies will benefit the most from Turkey’s efforts to sell weapons systems and vehicles to these countries: Turkish Aerospace Industries Inc. (TAI) and Aselsan AS. According to Defense News, the two companies have risen in the ranks of the world’s top defense companies based on annual revenue. TAI dropped from 85th place to No. 80 while Aselsan went from No. 74 to 60th place.

Aselsan is primarily focused on ground- and sea-based weapons systems, such as surveillance radar, Stinger missile launch systems and torpedo countermeasure tools. More recently it began working with contractors on the $6 million, 65-ton Altay third-generation battle tank. Turkish Aerospace Industries makes the T129 attack helicopter, the A400M military transport aircraft and the Anka unmanned aerial vehicle.