2022 has been a proud year in the defense industry. The sector, which has accomplished many successful works from Kızılelma to National Combat Aircraft, from typhoon missiles to unmanned sea vehicles, broke a record in exports by exceeding 4 billion dollars and became one of the sought-after brands in the world. One of these brands is Canik. Canik is one of the 5 most well-known brands in the US market today, including THY. Rising to the 7th rank in the world with the production of 450 thousand pistols, the company rose to the 3rd rank in sales to the US market. In the company’s past, there is Cahit Aral, who was the Minister of Industry and Commerce of Turgut Özal’s period and also an important industrialist. Today, the company headed by his son, Zafer Aral, has completed its 2-year order for the latest 12.7 machine gun.
Evening Newspaperspoke with Zafer Aral, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Samsun Yurt Savunma A.Ş., the producer of Canik, about Canik, known in the world as ‘Kanik’:
■ First of all, I would like to hear Canik’s story. We started with the first food business in 1955. My father produced the first Turkish patented diesel engine in the 1960s. We started the first juice and first frozen food business. We produced at Meysu and Meybuz facilities with 7-8 factories. We entered the defense business in 1999. At that time, Canik was established locally under the name of Samsun Yurt Savunma. Then Ali Rıza Çarmıklı conducted it for a while. He offered. We bought. The company was in trouble at that time. Canik did not have any products on sale at that time.
■ Ozal’s years have only just begun to export… There is only export of traditional products. It must be a difficult process?… Let me tell you a memory. We were in the Bee Group, founded by the Motherland Party in 1983. Özal gave us the task to develop exports. In 1983, Turkey’s exports were 3.5 billion dollars and imports 5 billion dollars. The population is 45 million. Özal set a target of 15 billion dollars for us in 5 years. ‘Try to it,’ he said. We studied export items. We calculated the exports of raisins, apricots, cotton, yarn and mines. We thought, ‘How will it be, will we increase the cultivation areas?’ This was our vision in Turkey 40 years ago. When he couldn’t get out of it, Özal said ‘we will travel the world’. Özal is traveling by plane with a capacity of 150 people. He said, ‘It’s going empty anyway, let’s take businessmen with us’. So the travels began. Huge industrialists were hesitant, saying ‘I don’t have a foreign language’, ‘I’ve never been out before’. We were barely filling the planes. We were begging.
■ How did you come to this day?
The defense industry is a difficult process. R&D work takes a long time. No one tells you ‘take it and go’ while producing its UAV. You have to start from scratch. You have to be a Selçuk Bayraktar. Nobody gives you their R&D on a gold platter. The defense has a long preparation period. Every product has to be perfect. The market for a product that fails once in a while is not even in Africa. An understanding that says ‘I have a low price, but it works’ is not defensive. Turkey has to reach this awareness in all fields. Your life is gone when the gun leaves you on the road. The more valuable the human being, the more valuable the defense industry product must be. He who excels can live. There are 100 automobile brands in the world. The defense industry is bigger, but there are at most 10-15 brands. Why is that? Because the one who excels can live.
■ Has the canik reached perfection?
If you are preferred in the world, the proof is there. We are currently producing 450 thousand pistols annually. We are in the 7th place in production in the world. We rank third in exports to the USA. We became Kanik in the world, Canik in Turkey. Weapons have been coming from outside since the Ottomans. TAF and Police had a habit for centuries. Foreigners have settled. It was hard to break that. When the Americans and Europeans liked and praised the guns on social media, local users started to return to the local brand. This didn’t happen all at once. We currently have more than 3 million individual users in America. 350 thousand are added every year. Now we ship weapons all over the world. No more asking for references. Because we have a reference like America.
■ What difference did you make?
When we said that we will enter foreign markets 20 years ago, one of the brands on the market was the ones you saw in cowboy movies in the 1700s, and the other one that gave weapons to the Ottomans in the 1800s. Our competitors were companies of 200-300 years. We had to stand out against these rivals. First of all, the distribution in the weapon is very important. You need to collect the bullets where you aim. There is still no one who can distribute the bullets of our gun. When you shoot consecutively from 25 meters with the canik gun, it collects all the bullets at 7-8 cm. With this feature, it is number 1 in the world. The second is trigger sensitivity. If the trigger is hard, the gun will deflect. We are also the best in this field. Another feature is the ergonomic structure. We collaborated with Police Special Operations in Gölbaşı. We listened to the complaints and what should have happened. We made hundreds of prototypes. In addition, our other difference is the barrel life. The barrel does not deteriorate at 50 thousand shots. We have become a brand in terms of sales and awareness due to this difference we have made.
■ You had an investment in pistol production in America. What about?
Construction is about to end. The machines have arrived. We will have received the building in March-April. Turkey is now advanced in machinery production. We import many machines from Turkey. It will be an investment of 35 million dollars. It is in a small position of the factory here. In the first phase, 100-150 people will work.
■ A value-added work you do. How many dollars kilograms price do you have?
It was $125, now it came to $200 when the machine gun kicked in. The kilogram price in the tank is 100 dollars. New generation tanks cost around $200.
■ How is your food business?
Both are currently for sale. One on paddy, the other on food. I believe that. There is a saying in Kayseri: One business works profitably, two works out, three works at a loss. If there are several different jobs in family companies, this rule must be followed. The situation is different in holdings.
■ How do you find the minimum wage?
It comes to $457 which is a very good number. As long as the cost of living stops. Let me say this as a final word. There is no wealth in the service sector. It just keeps the country afloat. Of course, we need to be able to export 100 dollars with 25 dollars.
I am hopeful for Turkey’s future. We know the power of production. If the way for production-oriented investments is opened, they will not be able to hold Turkey. Our human spirit is also different. We can become ‘one’ in a moment. There is as much as the world is afraid of us
If there was no interruption AFTER 1940s, we would have been in a different place
■ Locality in the defense industry has reached 80 percent. How do you evaluate? Has the industry created its own ecosystem?
It is created now. Even in the automotive industry, a sub-industry has emerged in 50 years. Today, we are very strong in the automotive industry. Togg is also going into production which is a tremendous event. A brand new car is coming out with the right steps. They set the right strategy. The first button was not fastened incorrectly. It’s sure to be successful. In the defense industry, there is this. If the moves initiated by Atatürk had not been interrupted after the 1940s, Turkey would be at a very different point in the world today. Because the point Turkey has reached in 15 years is obvious.
■ When you say interruption, can you open it?
In the 1940s, the aircraft factory in Kayseri is closed. The factory that produces weapons is made to produce stoves. The weapons factory in Kırıkkale is closed and becomes idle. Nuri Killigil’s factory in the Golden Horn is blown up. It didn’t explode on its own. 27 people, including Killigil, were martyred. Because the production was being shipped to Egypt and Palestine. It was done to stop him. Even the government didn’t care. The funeral prayer was not performed by the Diyanet. We named the R&D center in Samsun after Nuri Killigil. After 1940, the defense industry was destroyed. If the moves of that period had continued, we would be able to make passenger planes very comfortably today. My fathers generation was to produce what was done in the world. At that time, it was said, ‘Let’s make it like the product of so-and-so’. The current generation has started to say ‘we can do better’. Now the world is following us in the defense industry. Self-confidence has formed in Turkey. Let’s get the strategy right. We need power to support the long R&D process. We went to the world market for the first time in 2011. In that process, our food factories in Mersin and Keşan fed this place. We spent 450 million liras in 5 years on the R&D of the machine gun. 100 million lira of this went to ammunition. Those entering the defense industry should prepare accordingly. If there is no capital, the business is interrupted.
OUR TWO-YEAR ORDER IS FILLED
■ Finally, you have produced a heavy machine gun. What’s the situation there?
There are 4 manufacturers in the world for the 12.7 heavy machine gun. We became the 5th manufacturer. In this weapon, we followed the same path as the pistol. We made the difference. The barrel life of a machine gun in the world is 16 thousand rounds. We raised it to 25 thousand. We made the first export to Azerbaijan. Our two-year order has been filled. There are Middle East, Africa and America in export.