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Turkish and Israeli defence firms see the highest arms sales growth in 2021

Five companies booked more than $15bn in weapons sales last year, the fastest of any region in the world
A Bayraktar Akinci unmanned combat aerial vehicle is exhibited at Teknofest aerospace and technology festival in Baku, Azerbaijan, 27 May 2022 (Reuters)

Israeli and Turkish arms manufacturers saw the highest growth in weapons sales of any worldwide in 2021, according to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report released on Monday.

Of the top 100 arms-producing and military services companies, five were in the Middle East, generating $15bn in arms sales in 2021, an increase of 6.5 percent compared with 2020. This also represented the fastest pace of growth of all top 100 firms represented in the SIPRI report.

Three of the companies were from Israel and two from Turkey, crystallising the reputation of both countries as leading manufacturers and exporters of weapons.  

The Israeli defence company Elbit Systems jumped from $4.2bn in revenues in 2020 to $4.75bn, placing it 28 in the world's top 100 arms makers and defence contractors and the highest placement in the Middle East. 

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The other Israeli companies included were Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), with $3.87bn in revenues, and Rafael at $3.01bn. 

This was followed by Turkey's Aselsan at $2.16bn in revenues and the highest Turkish ranking at 56, followed by Turkish Aerospace, which jumped 23 places to enter the top 100 at number 86 with revenues of $1.2bn. 

New defence markets

Israeli companies have benefitted significantly from recent normalisation agreements with several Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, opening up new defence markets.

Israel said in April that defence exports totalled $11.3bn in 2021, up from $8.3bn in 2020.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which in 2020 normalised relations with Israel in agreements known as the Abraham Accords, accounted for seven percent of the arms purchases at almost $1bn. 

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Recent satellite images emerged showing that the UAE has deployed Israeli Barak aerial defence systems produced by IAI, in a sign of deepening relations between the two countries. 

Over the last two decades, Turkey's defence and aerospace sales have increased tenfold. 

Sales in 2002 equated to about $1bn, and annual exports stood at around $248m. By 2021 the sector's sales reached more than $10.1bn, and exports totalled $3.2bn. 

Turkish Aerospace has benefitted from deals such as supplying the Philippine Air Force with 77 T129 Atak helicopters at a cost of over $50m per unit. 

In recent years, Turkey has also made a record number of arms sales to several African countries interested in acquiring its domestically produced military hardware, including armed drones, attack helicopters and turboprop aircraft. 

Algeria is near a deal to buy 10 Anka-S military drones produced by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). Algeria's neighbour and rival Morocco ordered 13 Bayraktar TB2 armed drones from Turkey's Baykar drone manufacturer last year.

In 2021, Niger became the first foreign customer to order TAI's Hurkus turboprop trainer/light attack aircraft. Chad and reportedly Libya have since ordered the aircraft as well. TAI expects many more customers for the Hurkus in Africa, its deputy general manager said in September.

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