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    "We have blown up 28 missiles to understand why"

    Güven Sak, PhD25 February 2014 - Okunma Sayısı: 987

    The administrators do not have the patience for promoting any given R&D project since they approach it the way they approach construction projects.

    The Custom’s Union agreement helped Turkey become a medium-tech industrial economy and an indispensible part of the European market. The Custom’s Union has fulfilled its function for Turkey. Please let me note that this was all thanks to the European Union accession process. There is one thing that has been occupying my mind lately:

    Why did the Custom’s Union, which reinforced Turkey’s position as a medium-tech industrial country, not shore up the process of becoming a high-tech country? The biggest high-tech consumer market is immediately adjacent to Turkey. Why can we not get a greater share of  high-tech industry production? Why are there only a few job fields for engineers and basic scientists in Turkey? Why is Turkey unable to advance in R&D and enhance its production structure, which is currently limited to small fry? Do you want to hear a basic reason? Managers and administrators in Turkey do not have the patience for that. Nor do they have the determination to develop a national technology. I vote for the human factor here. Let me tell you why.

    I heard an anecdote from a group of engineers the other day. Let me start with that. Turkey has been working with China on intermediate-range missiles for a long time. The Chinese are training Turkish engineers. The technology transfer is taking place how it does in all other areas: Turkish engineers are taught what materials to combine and how to combine them to produce the relevant device, but they are not taught the mathematical processes on which the design is based.

    They don’t know, for instance, why a component has to be corrugated. They just know that it has to be, but they don’t how the calculation that explains the corrugation per se. Therefore, they cannot duplicate the device. I think this is the difference between production engineers and creative engineers. Going back to the anecdote, the Turkish engineers noticed a detail about a particular part of the missile design and asked the Chinese trainers why it had been designed that way. The answer of the Chinese encapsulates R&D and technology transfer issues: “We blew up 28 missiles before we understood why that part has to be exactly the way it is now. What you have to do is take that for granted.”

    That’s how production without the R&D is like. You produce something and you produce it well, but you don’t know exactly why you have done it. Only the people who did the initial R&D and design know that part. To know that part, you have to have the ambition and determination for national technology production.

    I believe that the main issue in Turkey is one of management. At the top layer, the administrators do not have the patience for promoting any given R&D project since they approach it the way they approach construction projects. A construction project has a definite beginning and end. First, the need is known. Second, the term of the project is known. Third, the stages of the project are known. Fourth, it is easy to schedule each stage roughly. Fifth, the date of inauguration is known. So a construction project starts and ends on the predetermined date if the payments are made on time. If the payment finishes earlier, so will the project. This is not the case with an R&D project. You cannot know if and when the process will come to a deadlock. You spend all the money, but the missile ends up exploding. You can only guess the error. You start over and make the entire investment for another time, but the missile blows up again. You start over from scratch after each failure, so many times that you might waste 28 missiles. The trick here is that your administrators must have the patience for the 29th trial. If you need a project which can be finished before the coming elections, an R&D project is not what you are looking for. Or what happened with the Hürkuş (Freebird) project of the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) happens: your prime minister sits in an aircraft which cannot fly and salutes the people. The Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) is younger than the TAI, but it is able to produce aircrafts that can fly. Turkey’s does not because it does not have the patience for the 29th trial right after having failed 28 times.

    Why is there no R&D in Turkey? Because we don’t have the patience or determination for it. Without the R&D, you do not have a national technology, or the need for engineers and basic scientists. Let me tell you the stories of the TAI and the KAI sometime.


    This commentary was published in Radikal daily on 25.02.2014