Is Turkey seeking offensive weapons?

It relies on the nuclear and conventional deterrence provided by the US and NATO. It pursues a policy of not acquiring nuclear arms but seeks to build its own nuclear energy plants.

Having no policy of acquiring nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) weapons, Turkey seeks a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East that it borders.

Yet there are increasing signs that Turkey is moving toward acquiring offensive weapons too. Such a shift in policy can be traced to remarks made recently by top Turkish officials about the country’s now-canceled, long-stalled and controversial long-range missile project.

Turkey canceled its $4 billion tender for long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, code-named T-Loramids, in mid-November, for which China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp (CPMIEC) had been selected in 2013 as the preferred provider. Turkey chose CPMIEC, offering the HQ-9 system, as the preferred candidate for the deal in September 2013, although talks continued with second-place French-Italian partnership Eurosam, offering the SAMP/T system, and also with the third-place contender, a Raytheon-Lockheed Martin partnership, offering the Patriot system. CPMIEC’s selection drew considerable criticism from the US as well as from other NATO allies over the interoperability and security issues of operating a Chinese system.

The canceled missile contract was intended to deter ballistic missiles. But well informed Turkish sources suggested to me that recent remarks made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an interview on Nov. 18 with the ATV TV station implied the possible adoption of a strategy of local acquisition of long-range SAMs to develop ballistic missiles with offensive capabilities. Ankara said Turkey will go ahead with the development of long-range missiles locally with foreign assistance, having canceled the T-Loramids tender.

Highlighting that the canceled T-Loramids project was a missile defense project, Erdogan said, “What is important is whether we [Turkey] will engage in defense or offense in the long term. We want [these missiles] to be developed locally but to also have an offensive nature. With the cancelation of the missile tender we took this step. We are currently developing missiles, but we are not at the level we want them to be concerning their range,” he told ATV.

Turkey has missiles believed to have a range of up to 150 kilometers.

In fact, back in 2011, in his capacity as prime minister, Erdogan set a target of acquiring missiles with ranges between 2,500 and 3,000 kilometers.

“Our next door neighbor, Iran, has missiles with a range of 2,500 kilometers. The longest range of our missiles is 150 kilometers. This should not be the case; we have to extend the range of our missiles,” Erdogan said during a meeting of the Turkish Scientific and Technical Research Board (TUBİTAK).

“Iran developed its long-range missiles locally. It has been developing them independently of Europe. They have been producing these missiles despite the fact that they face an embargo. We can also do that [produce long-range missiles locally]. I want you [TUBİTAK] to produce long-range missiles,” he went on to say during the same TUBİTAK meeting in December 2011.

Similarly, İsmail Demir, undersecretary of the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), the country’s government-owned arms procurement agency, speaking late in October at a panel organized by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) in Ankara, said, “We want Turkish companies to obtain maximum technical competency [in building long-range missiles] while also working with foreign partners.” He added that the long-range missile system needed to provide “defense against missiles with a range of up to 3,000 kilometers, including ballistic missiles.”

Turkey received 120 Block 1 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles, a semi-guided missile system, from the US in December 1995. The ATACMS have a range of 30-165 kilometers, thus falling below the 300 kilometer threshold of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) to which Turkey belongs.

A tactical ballistic missile, meanwhile, is being developed in Turkey, with the lead role in the project taken by the Turkish missile company Roketsan. China lent assistance to the missile project, dubbed “Project J.” These missiles are believed to have a range within the limits set forth by the MTCR.

Now we understand from Erdogan’s recent remarks that Turkey might have actually been working on developing longer-range missiles with offensive capabilities too, i.e., ballistic missiles.

Any possible change in Turkey’s defensive stance toward a more offensive one will be quite interesting to watch.