Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 87

Sabah has reported that Turkey is preparing to launch a comprehensive air defense system against missile threats in its immediate neighborhood. To this end, “while the assessments of the bids for short- and medium-range air defense systems are continuing, long-range air defense and missile systems constitute the most significant step of the project” (Sabah, April 30). Turkey has begun “preliminary talks with the United States, Russia, Israel and China with regard to its plans to buy its first missile defense system, worth more than $1 billion” (Turkish Daily News, April 29). Although Turkey has generally good relations with its neighbors with ground-to-ground missiles (Syria, Iran), Iran’s increasing capabilities in missiles and weapons of mass destruction are potential sources of concern in the long term for many Turkish officials.

In order to address these concerns before allowing them to turn into real threats, “Ankara has launched its medium-range, surface-to-air missile defense program as a first step toward building a modest but costly shield to protect militarily and strategically important locations” (Turkish Daily News, April 29). According to the procurement officials quoted by Turkish Daily News, “the Under Secretariat for Defense Industries, Turkey’s main procurement office, recently gathered price and availability data on U.S., Russian, Israeli and Chinese offers and is now processing them. Turkey will then decide whether to launch a traditional acquisition tender among interested companies or to hold separate government-to-government talks with key suppliers” (Turkish Daily News, April 29). Because of the program’s importance for the strategic defense of Turkey, the second option, government-to-government talks with key suppliers, seems more likely. Although the concrete outcome remains to be seen, procurement of the missile defense system was discussed with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates during his visit to Ankara in late February.

The most familiar missile defense option for the Turkish military and public is the U.S. Patriot system. Turkey’s need for missile defense was “first revealed during U.S. operations against Iraq in 1991 and 2002; during which Patriots were stationed in Turkey under a NATO framework as a protection from possible Scud missile attacks” (Sabah, April 30). To address Turkey’s current missile defense needs, “the United States has proposed its Patriot anti-missile defense system, developed by Raytheon. The U.S. missile used in that system is the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) made by Lockheed Martin. The Patriot became the world’s only combat-proven tactical ballistic missile defense system during the 1991 Persian Gulf War” (Turkish Daily News, April 29).

According to Sabah, of the remaining three missile defense systems, Russian, Israeli and Chinese, “the Russian S-300 system is the one with the best chance” (Sabah, April 30). Quoting anonymous defense sources, Sabah noted that “Russia did not offer the S-400 system for sale at this time, but hinted that S-400 system can be purchased during negotiations on the S-300 system.” It is reported that Russia has recently developed the S-400 system particularly for Moscow’s defense and “the S-400 has characteristics superior to those of the Patriot and Arrow systems” (Sabah, April 30). Although less likely, there are two other options: “Israel’s Arrow-2, which is built jointly by Israeli and U.S. companies, and the China model, about which no specific details were available” (Turkish Daily News, April 29).

Although Turkey has discussed its missile defense plans with the United States, and the U.S. Patriot system has been in a strong position in Turkey’s missile defense procurement plans, Turkey’s options for national missile defense systems extend to other allies, partners, and beyond. “Defense analysts predict that the competition will most likely be between the U.S. and Russian alternatives” (Turkish Daily News, April 29).

Defense analysts tend to have different opinions about which option has the better chance. On the one hand, the fact that Russia is putting the advanced S-400 system on the table has been perceived as an edge, and some reports have described “Russia as being the most likely candidate for Turkish missile defense procurement” (Sabah, April 30). On the other hand, “the U.S. Patriot system is seen as the strongest candidate for Turkey, given the system’s success and popularity and the close relationship between Turkey and the United States” (Turkish Daily News, April 29). When assessing Turkey’s missile defense prospects, it is important to take into account the balance Turkey aims to achieve between the diversification of defense sources and the interoperability of national defense systems with NATO resources. In this regard, the Turkish media have reported that “when U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Turkey in late February, U.S. officials particularly emphasized the interoperability issue to dissuade Turkish officials from the Russian option” (Turkish Daily News, April 29). While the results of this strategic interplay remain to be seen, “Turkey plans to have four active long-range missile defense units by 2010” (Sabah, April 30). In the long term, after the purchase of the first missile defense system, Turkey plans to acquire a second system, but this time with major local industry contributing to its production (Turkish Daily News, April 29).