Turkey to hold off on missile-defense choice

Turkey to hold off on missile-defense choice

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey to hold off on missile-defense choice

This file picture shows a S-300 air defense system developed and produced by Russia. The system is a competitor for Turkey’s air defense tender despite criticism. Hürriyet photo

When Turkey’s top decision-making body on arms procurement meets later this month, it is not expected to select a much-awaited system for the country’s long-range air and missile-defense program, in the wake of Syria’s downing of a Turkish jet, a senior procurement official said July 6.

“A few weeks ago, a decision may have been likely, but internationally the situation is not clear now,” the procurement official said.

The Defense Industry Executive Council is expected to hold its three or four-monthly meeting during the week starting July 16. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, Chief of General Staff Necdet Özel, and Murad Bayar, chief of the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, are members of the panel. The meeting had originally been tentatively scheduled for July 4 and then for July 12. It has now been delayed until after July 16.

The long-range air-defense program has been up for grabs for at least two years. Competitors for Turkey’s long-range air and 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 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.

Turkey presently has no long-range air-defense systems. All of these systems, ranging in price up to $4 billion, are in theory capable of hitting an incoming aircraft or missile. 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 was hit by a barrage of short-range anti-aircraft machine gun fire, but some analysts have suggested that the aircraft could possibly have been hit by a Russian missile defense system. This has not been confirmed.

Russian, Chinese options

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

The second thing the committee will discuss is the selecting of a national commercial shipyard to manufacture the third through the eighth of the Milgem national corvettes, as part of a $1.5 billion program.

The candidates are RMK Marine, owned by the Koç conglomerate, and Dearsan A.Ş. The first two corvettes were built at a military shipyard. The first corvette, the TCG Heybeliada, has already entered naval service, and the second, the TCG Büyükada, has been put to sea for testing. Some analysts say both these shipyards could be selected to build the remaining six corvettes. The Milgem program is the first national project under which Turkey is constructing warships.

“The Milgem has been very
useful from the point of view of design, development and construction of a national ship, and we
are going to build on this experience to gain the capability to build bigger warships,” the procurement official said.