Turkey mulls three missile technology programs
Burak BekdilLast month, Turkey scrapped a two-year-long program for the construction of the country’s first long-range air and anti-missile system, a competition between Chinese, U.S. and European contenders. The decision, however, does not mean Turkey gave up on missile technology, as defense officials have said the decision to cancel the bidding may give birth to three, not just one, missile-related programs.
After the government decided to cancel the three-way foreign competition for the program, dubbed T-LORAMIDS, it immediately tasked a partnership of two Turkish defense companies to set out to work on the planned long-range air defense capabilities.
Under this first plan, military electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey’s biggest defense firm, and missile maker Roketsan will join forces to develop long-range air and anti-missile capabilities.
“It is not a secret that this effort requires a very complex technological work and may take several years to acquire,” said one senior defense procurement official. “I am not sure if we can afford to sit down and wait for a happy ending.”
The decision to scrap the bidding came at a time when the military’s top brass were concerned about increasing conventional security threats, leading the military to explore alternatives.
“We think that our requirement [for long-range capabilities] is more urgent than any reliable system the local partnership can deliver to us,” said one senior Air Force official.
Procurement sources say that means Turkey may soon feel forced to buy two long-range systems off-the-shelf as a stopgap solution.
“This may pave the way for renewed competition between the U.S. and European contenders,” said one source.
In September 2013, Turkey selected China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp (CPMIEC) for the T-LORAMIDS contract. CPMIEC offered a $3.44 billion solution. CPMIEC defeated a U.S. partnership of Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, maker of the Patriot systems, and the European Eurosam, maker of the SAMP/T.
Under pressure from its NATO allies, Turkey last year started parallel talks with the U.S. and European contenders but eventually scrapped the competition last month.
“Now there may be a two-way race between the Americans and Europeans to sell two systems to Turkey as a stopgap solution,” said one aerospace industry source. “Both companies would be keen to pen a contract. That would also satisfy the Turkish military.”
The first two contracts will make every player happy: Two Turkish companies with a challenging contract to develop new capabilities, one of the western contenders that wins the stopgap contract (worth around $2 billion) and the end-user, the Turkish military. What about the Chinese?
The third contract may win disappointed hearts and minds in China. In addition to defensive missile systems, the government is also considering acquiring offensive missile technologies.
“This is where the Chinese may come into the picture,” said one government official.
It is no secret that Turkey has long had the ambition to develop offensive missiles with a range of around or over 2,000 kilometers.
“Why not work on that program with the Chinese?” asked the government official. “In the past we worked with them on missile technology. They were reliable partners.”