Turkey distancing from missile deal with China

Turkey distancing from missile deal with China

Turkey distancing from missile deal with China

Turkey’s controversial decision last September to select a Chinse firm for the construction of the country’s first long-range air and anti-missile defense architecture has drawn reactions.

Turkey’s defense procurement bureaucracy and industry are increasingly showing signs of weariness over a potential $3.44 billion deal with a Chinese arms maker for the construction of the country’s first long-range air and anti-missile system.

A senior defense official said Ankara may rethink its September 2013 decision to award the controversial contract to China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp (CPMIEC).

“A number of new factors and parameters have emerged since last September … forcing us into a reassessment based on a broader perspective,” the official said.

An industry source familiar with the program, dubbed T-LORAMIDS, said some of the Turkish companies that would be subcontracted for the air defense system are skeptical about potential corporate consequences because CPMIEC is on a U.S. list of companies that are sanctioned under the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.

“Aselsan is especially increasingly cautious,” he said. Military electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey’s biggest defense firm, has been designated as the program’s prime local subcontractor.

The industry source also said several unexpected technical snags had emerged during contract negotiations with CPMIEC. But he did not go into the details, citing military secrecy.

More importantly, Turkey’s procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), may have distanced itself from the Chinese option in recent times. “We think that the SSM now has a more NATO-centric view over the competition, not just military,” a Turkish security official dealing with NATO said.

Turkey has come under strong pressure from its NATO allies since it announced its decision over the T-LORAMIDS. Ankara said it had chosen CPMIEC’s FD-2000 missile-defense system over rival offers from Franco-Italian Eurosam SAMP/T and Raytheon of the United States. It said the decision was based on better price and better terms of technology transfer.

Pre-election political turbulence in Turkey has also diverted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s attention from the contract. The procurement official said the final decision would be made by a committee chaired by Erdoğan. “The prime minister has been pro-active in all stages of the program. But we are not sure if this is a priority matter for him at the moment.”

Turkey’s Defense Industry Executive Committee oversees major procurement decisions, including the air defense system. The committee is chaired by Erdoğan, while its other members include Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and SSM chief Murad Bayar.

The committee had been scheduled to meet on Feb. 25 to discuss major programs, including the air defense system, but the meeting was canceled. A day earlier, tape recordings allegedly belonging to Erdoğan and his son, Bilal, were leaked onto social media. Erdoğan has denied the authenticity of the recordings.

Bayar said Feb. 27 that Turkey was aiming to decide on talks with CPMIEC and finalize a roadmap on the program next month. “Our talks with China are ongoing. We have extended the bidding until the end of April. We are aiming to get results in early April on this,” Bayar said.

But defense officials say the program may drag into further uncertainty after local polls on March 30. “A decision on a program of this size and complexities may require better political stability than we have today,” one source said.

NATO and U.S. officials have said any Chinese-built system could not be integrated with Turkey’s joint air defense assets with NATO and the U.S. and that it may harm Turkey’s relations with the alliance.