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ECONOMICS > Jet hit forces Turkey to boost air defense

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Turkey looks to quicken its pace in selecting a $4 billion air defense bid winner after fire from Syrian forces brought down one of its warplanes last week

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Turkey sends missile batteries, tanks and troops to the border with Syria after the Syrian forces shot down a Turkish military jet
last week. Military vehicles loaded with army personnel also carry low-altitude air defense systems and anti-aircraft guns. AA photo

Turkey sends missile batteries, tanks and troops to the border with Syria after the Syrian forces shot down a Turkish military jet last week. Military vehicles loaded with army personnel also carry low-altitude air defense systems and anti-aircraft guns. AA photo

Ümit Enginsoy Ümit Enginsoy uenginsoy@aol.com

Turkey’s highest defense procurement body is expected to select the winner in a $4 billion competition to select the country’s first long-range anti-air and anti-missile defense systems soon, following the downing of a Turkish jet by Syria.

The Defense Industry Executive Committee, whose members include Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, Chief of the Turkish General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and procurement chief Murad Bayar, is set to meet in July. The meeting was expected on July 4, but it was later delayed indefinitely.

Competitors in Turkey’s long-range air-missile systems include U.S. partners Raytheon and Lockheed Martin with their Patriot-based system; Eurosam with its SAMP/T Aster 30; Russia’s Rosoboronexport, marketing the country’s S-300 and S-400 systems; and China’s CPMIEC (China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation), offering its HQ-9. Eurosam’s shareholders include MBDA – jointly owned by British BAE Systems, Italian Finmeccanica and pan-European EADS – and France’s Thales. These companies will work with Turkish partners.

The contest comes less than a month after a Turkish RF-4E reconnaissance fighter was shot down by Syria. The Syrian Foreign Ministry said the plane had been hit by a barrage of short-range anti-aircraft machine-gun fire, but Turkish officials said the attack did not bear the traces of anti-aircraft fire. They instead said it had no traces, suggesting that the aircraft might possibly have been hit by a Russian missile defense system. This was not confirmed.

France back in game

Around that time, Turkey agreed to restore all military ties with France, and a senior procurement official said June 27 that the restored relations covered all arms deals between the two countries. The deal effectively means that Eurosam, the European missile maker whose members include major French companies, may now compete for Turkey’s Long-Range Air and Missile Defense Systems (Loramids). Eurosam has never been officially excluded from that competition, but the earlier legislation made the European missile maker difficult to select.

Ankara canceled all economic, political and military meetings with Paris in December after the lower house of French Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a draft law making it illegal to deny that the killings of Armenians in World War I in the Ottoman Empire amounted to genocide. France’s highest court overturned the law two months later but the Turkish measures taken against France, which included restrictions on French military aircraft and ships landing or docking on its territory, have remained in place. Erdoğan ordered the sanctions be lifted after a positive meeting with France’s new President François Hollande.

“We definitely expect a decision this time. The program has been delayed since 2009,” said a business official.

Many Western officials and experts say that the Russian and the Chinese systems are not compatible with NATO systems. Their potential eventual victory thus might inadvertently provide them with access to classified NATO information, and as a result may compromise NATO’s procedures. Despite this criticism, Turkey has so far ruled against expelling the Chinese and Russian options, saying there is no need to exclude them from the competition.

One Western expert countered: “If, say, the Chinese win the competition, their systems will be in interaction, directly or indirectly, with NATO’s intelligence systems, and this may lead to the leak of critical NATO information to the Chinese, albeit inadvertently. So this is dangerous.”
“NATO won’t let that happen,” said another Western official here, familiar with the matter. “If the Chinese or the Russians win the Turkish contest, their systems will have to work separately. They won’t be linked to NATO information systems.”

This was the first time that NATO had strongly urged Turkey against choosing the non-Western systems. “One explanation is that Turkey itself doesn’t plan to select the Chinese or Russian alternatives eventually, but is still retaining them among their options to put pressure on the Americans and the Europeans to curb their prices,” the Western expert said.

June/29/2012

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