Turkey could rethink disputed air defense program
REUTERS photoWith parliamentary elections scheduled for Nov. 1 and defense bureaucracy at a near standstill, some military planners are questioning the wisdom of a controversial Turkish defense contract for the construction of the country’s first long-range air and anti-missile defense system.
Defense officials say renewed elections will further put off any government decision on the multibillion-dollar contract.
“Even if we assume that the political uncertainty will gradually disappear after November and we will have a government, single-party [administration] or coalition in the new year, the air defense contract will not be anyone’s priority until late in 2016,” said one senior defense procurement.
Another procurement official said the military wing from among the decision-makers was increasingly unenthusiastic about the program.
“The generals have made serious signs of disapproval – I think they are not sure whether they want to spend a big portion of their procurement budget for a questionable air defense architecture,” the official said.
One military officer explained the reluctance: “Turkey is not the Netherlands by size of territory. We cannot protect Turkish soil with a few batteries. And providing protection for a few selected strategic areas may not be worth spending billions of dollars to counter a threat we are not sure exists.”
An aerospace expert agrees: “Turkey has been planning to build long-range air defense capabilities since the early 1990s. It’s been over 20 years. If Turkey selects a bidder next year, the earliest it can get the system built and operational would be the early 2020s. By then, Turkey would have been seeking this system for about 30 years.”
Turkey has been in talks with all three bidders in the program, dubbed the T-LORAMIDS. The fourth bidder, a Russian manufacturer eliminated in September 2013, could re-enter the picture depending on how keen the Russians would be to improve it, defense sources say.
After Ankara selected a Chinese company in September 2013 to build the air defense architecture and came under heavy pressure from its Western allies for the decision, it also opened parallel negotiations this summer with a European contender in the multibillion-dollar competition.
Contract negotiations with the Chinese manufacturer, China Precision Machinery Import Export Corp. (CPMIEC), are also in progress but President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said talks have also been opened with Eurosam, the European contender in the program. Following an assessment by Turkey’s top defense procurement agency, the Defense Industry Executive Committee selected CPMIEC as the best bidder, and the European Eurosam as the second. A U.S. partnership of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin came third in the bidding. CPMIEC offered a solution with a price tag of $3.44 billion.