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BURAK BEKDİL

burak.bekdil@hurriyet.com.tr

BURAK BEKDİL > An eagle without wings?

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When “Greece’s Bach,” the great Manos Hatzidakis, wrote his “Eim’aitos horis ftera” (I am an eagle without wings) in 1963, he certainly was not thinking of the Turkish Air Force (TuAF) in the 21st century. But on this side of the Aegean, a land of bitter ironies, eagles can fly without wings.

At precisely 12:29 am on Aug. 7, Hürriyet’s web page editors put together two pieces of news in twin boxes on top of the page. One box quoted the defense minister as saying that “Turkey’s anti-terror fight was progressing perfectly.” The other one said the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had kidnapped three soldiers. Scroll down the page and a “main story” would tell you how Turkey’s failure to fortify military outposts had paved the way for the most recent PKK attack which killed eight soldiers.

But the Turkish skies are in no better shape. The government’s “Syria challenge” seems to have revealed a number of strategic shortcomings in the TuAF. The mysterious shooting of the reconnaissance plane presumably by Syrian air defenses was the first warning to reveal these operational snags. Six weeks after the incident, the TuAF has not been able to document how its RF-4E was shot down. The plane and its pilots were probably the victims of an ambitious Turkish attempt to test the capabilities of Syria’s air defenses.

Gentlemen, if you are thinking about a military campaign, cool down a minute and see how sluggish most of your procurement programs go. Turkey has not yet selected a contender to build long-range air- and missile-defense systems. The lack of air defenses in the event of a military challenge could expose Turkey to the risk of Syrian long-range missiles, not to mention the possibility of chemical and biological warheads.

The lack of smart weaponry, spy planes and helicopters is not a secret. Smart weapons in the TuAF are a rarity and the present level of provisions cannot support an air campaign against a country with air defense systems of Russian technology. And remember, not a single new helicopter has gone into service in the last 10 years.

Turkey decided to procure attack helicopters in the mid-1990s. It is now 2012, but the first gunship is still a few years away from delivery in even the most optimistic scenario. Separately, the contract with Sikorsky for the procurement of 100 utility helicopters has not even been signed for some mysterious reason. Similarly, the deliveries of CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopters under a 2011 deal with Boeing are set for an unknown year in the future. It’s simple: Turkey cannot rely on signed (or unsigned) but uncertain contracts with unknown deliveries in the event of a present-day clash.

I am not going to question how many years we must wait before another program equips Turkish military aircraft with stand-off jammer capabilities. Bets can open at three years and more (Turkey has been seeking these capabilities over the last 10 years).

But this is not the end of the boring waiting list. To increase the TuAF’s firepower, Ankara in 2009 asked for the sale of two MQ-9 reapers (armed drones) and four MQ-1 Predators. Apparently, fearing obstacles, the Pentagon has refrained from notifying Congress about the sale. Then there is the story of the fancy airborne early-warning and control aircraft under a $1.6 billion deal with Boeing. The first deliveries of the 737-300 jets to be converted into spy planes are expected to arrive next year, eight years after a contract was signed. Of course, there is also the minor problem that most Turkish fighter jets fly like innocent seagulls without proper electronic warfare suites. When was this program initiated? About a decade ago.

With quite a few of its generals in jail and/or expelled and pilots deserting, the TuAF is hardly a force to give its enemies cold shivers. It was thus not a coincidence when U.S. State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell warned last week that “Washington did not think Turkey’s further military build-up on the border with Syria was a right way to go.”

August/10/2012

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Murat

8/10/2012 9:27:18 PM

Hamas, Syria and Iran were never Turkey's "startegic" partners, some pipe dream Isralelis tell themselves to feel better about murdering Turks. In fact Iran is competing with Turkey for influence. War against PKK has been raging way before all of this and none of our strategic partners could do much about it. In fact, US invasion created safe heavens for PKK. What did US and Israeli drones do? By the way, it was the Israeli modenized F4 that was splashed by Syria, so much for that high tech.

Aryeh Rapaport

8/10/2012 6:55:01 PM

Turkey's paying for its mistakes.. When Turkey decided to change strategic partners from Israel to Hamas, Syria & Iran; countries directly appose Israel, US and EU militarily, politically & ideologically it condemned itself & should not expect these countries to help her buy advance weaponry. Its clear Iran, Syria & Hezbolah are responsible for American, EU deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon. Its also clear these entities are responsible for death and terror in Israel. Who are Turkeys friends?

Murat

8/10/2012 4:38:52 PM

Rather one-sided and misleading. A lot has been actually procured and installed and fielded. Turkey can not in one decade accomplish what took 100 years for others. All this makes it clear that Turkey has to rely on its own resources more and more. I agree that there should be less talk, less ceremonies and more action.

mara mcglothin

8/10/2012 3:49:35 PM

Always a pleasure on Friday mornings Burak Bey! DANIEL You hit the nail on the head. We cannot be sure what part of the problem is mechanical and what part is human error. With the experts all in jail, it really makes if difficult to know what is what. BLUE What nonesense are you spouting now? Always the problems, conspiracies of others to explain Turkey's inept behavior?

John Makel

8/10/2012 2:24:13 PM

I want to commend Hurriyet and Burak Bekdil about this article.

Roger Harding

8/10/2012 1:58:19 PM

AKP and Turkey must learn to talk less. Then follow up words with action. Take a page from the Israeli play book in this regard. Turkish military is seriously lagging behind high-tech warfare. Fix that first.

Johanna Dew

8/10/2012 12:04:40 PM

Why is nobody mentioning the weapon related software boycott by India, Israel and Sweden? It may be obvious with all those planes, drones and helicopters falling out the sky that something is wrong. Of course; Turkey has cozy relations with Hamas, other Muslim Brotherhood groups, Sudan mass murderers and Somali landlords. And Turkey supported Iran for a while. The link is obvious. Great art. BB!

Shah Hamdan

8/10/2012 11:48:52 AM

Be sure Americans will not deliver these weapons in perfect position. They will keep a BUG in them so they will control software and to whom it may target . We will pay only for hard ware which wouldn't be in Turkish command. Its impossible to think at one hand we threat Israel and other hand Americans and west are our best friends. This government is in illusion and cheating the nation with its immature policies and empty slogans.

Rimon Tree

8/10/2012 9:07:20 AM

They are a bit slow in Washington, we common people knew all along about Turkeys foreign policy and especially in respect of Syria not being "a right way to go." Turkey's esteemed government fell to its own ambitions! How sad! Time for a change! But I suspect that AKP will hold on to power with any means they think they can. They started out with disciplinary measures and certainly will try to harden them until nobody even dares to speak out silently, let alone loudly.

Tayyar Abi

8/10/2012 7:08:30 AM

The first sentence of the last paragraph is the real worry.
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