LALE – Turkey’s missile project triggers further controversy

Turkey’s missile project triggers further controversyTurkeyand#39s long-stalled project to acquire long-range missiles has recently renewed controversy after Turkish Defense Minister Ismet YIlmazand#39s response to a question posed by an opposition politician revealed that there have also been differences of opinion among government officials on the project.At the center of the controversy over the T-Loramids air and missile defense program are Turkeyand#39s ongoing talks with the China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CPMIEC), whose HQ-9 surface-to-air missile system (SAM) was downselected for the project in the fall of 2013.

Under pressure from NATO, which has repeatedly raised concerns over the interoperability of the Chinese system with the allianceand#39s air-defense network, Ankara began concurrent talks with rival bidders: French-Italian company Eurosam (SAMPT system) and Raytheon-Lockheed Martin (Patriot system). China offered the lowest bid at $3.

4 billion, whereas European and US competitors both offered bids exceeding $4 billion. Rather than admit that it was influenced by NATOand#39s concerns, the government cited disagreements over technology transfer issues with CPMIEC as a pretext to initiate talks with the European and US bidders.

The bidding has also revealed disagreements between the defense minister and President Recep Tayyip ErdoIan. YIlmaz, responding to a question posed by AytuI Iray, a deputy from the main opposition Republican Peopleand#39s Party (CHP), said on Feb.

18 that Turkey does not plan to integrate the missile system with NATO defense systems. andldquoThe system in question will be integrated with extant Turkish systems of national defense and will be used without integrating it with NATOand#39s systems,andrdquo he said.

However, less than a week had passed before Erdoganand#39s spokesperson, Ibrahim KalIn, attempted to correct YIlmazand#39s remarks, saying that, regardless of which bid is selected, the missile systems will be integrated with NATO infrastructure. Four days later, Ismail Demir, head of the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), a state-owned arms procurement agency, contradicted the presidential spokesperson and confirmed YIlmazand#39s remarks.

andldquoFirst of all, there is no condition in our tender that the systems will be integrated with NATO. It should ultimately be in harmony with the national system,andrdquo Demir said.

Meanwhile, Turkey has already faced implicit US sanctions in response to its talks with the Chinese company. Toward the end of December 2013, Merrill Lynch dropped its bid to broker the public offering of Turkeyand#39s military electronics company Aselsan on the grounds that NATO member Turkey was holding negotiations with CPMIEC to co-produce the T-Loramids.

CPMIEC is sanctioned by the US for selling items to Iran, Syria and North Korea, activities that are banned under US laws that aim to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.Ankara is now aware that if it reaches a deal with CPMIEC, it will not only be left with a standalone missile system, as NATO will refuse to integrate it, , but that military companies in particular will be refused cooperation by US partners, disrupting a long history of cooperation between Turkish and US defense companies.

Presidential spokesperson Kalinand#39s remarks indicate that Turkey will not purchase the Chinese HQ-9. ErdoIan, who made the initial decision to disregard NATO warnings and start talks with China, now appears to have decided that Turkey will not buy any systems that cannot be integrated with NATO.

However, we may not know whether Turkey has made its final decision on this controversial project before summer In January the SSM once again extended the deadline of the T-Loramids another six months, maintaining the validity of the bids until July.Turkey now seems to have two options: It can continue talks with European and US companies, or it may decide to simply build the system itself.

This second option appears to be viable because, with NATO Patriot systems already deployed over the country, it does not have any immediate concerns regarding ballistic missile defense.Turkey is also considering building a more aanced missile system that would extend beyond the range of the T-Loramids.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman