US gets Turkey’s ‘message’ over Chinese missile choice

US gets Turkey’s ‘message’ over Chinese missile choice

US gets Turkey’s ‘message’ over Chinese missile choice

Turkey recently announced a $3.4 billion order for a Chinese missile defence system. An offer including the US Patriot missiles (seen in picture) was among the failed bidders. Hürriyet Daily News photo by Selahattin Sönmez

It was on Oct. 24 that United States Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone explicitly stated Washington’s concerns over Turkey’s decision to launch negotiations with a Chinese company for the purchase of a $3.4 billion missile defense systems.

After echoing U.S. and NATO officials’ statements that the Chinese system would not be operable under NATO’s comprehensive anti-ballistic missile defense system, the ambassador announced the start of expert-level talks between Turkey and the U.S. “In order to make sure that the full facts are taken into due consideration, we really have just begun expert discussions with the Government of Turkey. We will keep them very respectful. This will be done in official channels between friends and allies,” he had said.

Apart from unannounced ones, four important high-level U.S. officials visited Turkey recently and held meetings with their Turkish counterparts, with two of them mainly to discuss the government’s selection of the Chinese Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp. (CPMIEC) for its long air-range air and missile-defense system. 

U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Jim Miller’s visit of last week was followed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Space and Defense Policy Frank Rose. While Miller is the third highest-ranking figure at the Pentagon, Rose is expected to be appointed as the assistant secretary in the event of his nomination being approved by the Senate. In the meantime, NATO officials also conducted talks with Turkish officials at various levels. All, as expected, voiced how the Turkish decision caused concerns at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels. 

Talking to reliable sources about the reflections of these meetings, I’ve come to the conclusion that Washington regards Turkey’s picking of the Chinese proposal as a “message” to its NATO allies, who were reluctant toward Turkey’s call for co-production and technology transfer in its billion-dollar defense industry tenders. 

“The Americans have understood the Turkish government’s message and have passed it onto their companies,” a source said yesterday. The source added that the partnership of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, whose Patriot anti-ballistic missile system came third, had been advised to move quickly in order to renew their proposal before it was too late. 

The core of this message is obviously the fact that the Chinese bid is nearly $1 billion cheaper than the U.S. and European companies’ offers and includes the opportunity of co-production and technology transfer, something Turkey has long been aggressively looking for. 

US continues to urge Turkey

Although the Raytheon-Lockheed Martin partnership is expected to knock on the doors of Turkey’s Undersecreteriat of Defense Industry with a more generous offer, Washington’s concerns that Ankara could still sign a deal with the Chinese firm are still there. Here are some important points made by the Washington administration over Ankara’s position over the purchase: 

* First, these concerns brought to Ankara’s attention are not new. Even during the course of the tender, Turkey was notified about potential interoperability problems in the event of the purchase of this non-NATO system. Considering the fact that this Chinese company was under U.S. sanctions due to its violations of Iranian and North Korean non-proliferation acts in the last decade, Ankara was told that its purchase would make the situation much more difficult and complicated. 

* Turkey’s signing of the contract with the CPMIEC would create a lot of political consequences with the U.S. It would have a chilling effect on other U.S. companies seeking to engage with Turkey’s defense-related companies. Ankara has already been urged that its important defense related companies like Havelsan, Aselsan, TAI, Roketsan or TAI would hardly find counterparts in the U.S. for future cooperation. 

* These concerns not only exist among the administration, but also in Congress, whose approval is a must in all governmental defense contracts. “Congress is very closely following this tender,” the source stressed. 

* The fate of Chinese FD-2000s will not be much different from Greece’s S-300 systems deployed in Crete if Turkey insists on purchasing them in the face of NATO opposition. These systems had to be deployed to Greece following a major crisis between Turkey, Greek Cyprus and Greece, but they did not turn out to be a functioning part of NATO’s system.

* One other point is that the Chinese system is not specifically designed to be an anti-ballistic missile defense system. It’s rather an air defense system and can hit a missile through the blast fragmentation system. NATO believes Turkey should adopt a system specifically designed to “hit to kill a missile threat” in the right place.