Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli will sign an agreement today in Brussels with European manufacturer of anti-air missiles Eurosam to determine the needs and priorities for the potential joint production of an anti-ballistic missile system between Turkey and the French-Italian consortium. Even though this deal seemingly complicates aid Turkey’s ongoing procurement process of S-400 long-range anti-ballistic missile systems from Russia, experts say these two deals are neither alternatives nor do they contradict each other. On the sidelines of NATO meeting in Brussels today, Canikli will also have a trilateral meeting with the French and Italian defense ministers to sign a contract that will start a 24-month feasibility study with Eurosam.
The initial deal that exhibits Turkey’s intention to work with Eurosam, the producer of SAMP/T and Aster 30 long-range surface-to-air missiles (SAM) systems, was signed on July 14, and today’s deal is considered a complementary move. “From now on it’s quite early to predict possible outcomes of the feasibility study program with Eurosam,” defense industry expert Arda Mevlütoğlu said. “But the important thing is that this agreement reveals that there is a strong desire between Turkey and Eurosam for further cooperation.”
Turkey’s procurement of a long-range missile defense system has been prioritized in recent years. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Turkish officials are concerned that the missiles could be used by the Syrian regime in case of a unilateral military conflict or an international military intervention, while the possibility of the missiles falling into the hands of a terrorist group poses a greater danger. Thus far, the country had to rely on Patriot batteries provided by NATO allies Germany and the Netherlands, which were withdrawn in 2015. Under the NATO umbrella, there are currently two Spanish Patriot batteries at the İncirlik Air Base in Adana, but its range does not cover all of the country’s south and eastern borders.
In the meantime, the country formally began looking to finally purchase its own system as part of a competition known as the Turkish Air Force Long Range Air and Missile Defense System (T-LORAMIDS) program. In 2013, Turkey’s military procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), chose the China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC) FD-2000 (HQ-9) long-range air and missile defense system over American and European competitors, including Eurosam’s SAMP/T Aster 30 system, in September 2013. Due to heavy pressure from NATO, in November 2015, Turkey announced that the deal was canceled.
Following the decision, Turkish sources announced Ankara was planning to launch its own project to build a similar system, but in light of the recent Russian-Turkish normalization process, purchasing and co-production of Russia’s S-400 missile system appeared as a viable option for Turkey. In September, both Russian and Turkish officials confirmed the deal and Turkey has made a down payment for the $2 billion system. According to the agreement, Turkey will buy four S-400 systems from Russia. The first two systems are expected to be delivered in 2019, and thereafter another two missile systems will be jointly produced in Turkey.
As a NATO member country, Turkey’s decision to buy Russian S-400 systems has raised concern among other NATO member countries, but NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg ended speculations on Sep. 19 when he said member states have the sovereign right to make decisions regarding their military purchases. Moreover, Canikli has recently ruled out claims that Turkey was moving away from NATO and reiterated that the purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system was not motivated by political reasons, rather it was made to address Turkey’s growing defense needs.
“The S-400 deal only aims at increasing Turkey’s defense capabilities. It is not politically motivated.” he said.
Turkey’s recent deal with Russia to purchase the S-400 missile defense system is a crucial step in diversifying the country’s options, but the Russian-made system is not the ultimate answer for Ankara, as it needs to rely on domestic technologies to be fully prepared for threats. “Signing the feasibility agreement with Eurosam can be considered as one of those diversifying efforts,” defense industry researcher Turan Oğuz said.
Apart from the Russian S-400 deal and the Eurosam agreement, the country is also continuing to develop a domestic missile program. In May 2017, Turkey tested its first domestically produced missile, the Bora, which has a range of 280 kilometers and the country’s state-owned weapons manufacturing company, Roketsan, continues to work on this project. In addition, the country currently possesses only short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) such as the MGM140A Army Tactical Missile (ATACM) with a range of 165 kilometers, the J-600T Yıldırım I and II with a range of 150 kilometers and 300 kilometers, respectively.
Today’s feasibility study agreement with Eurosam will likely produce results in 24 months. Following that, Turkey and Eurosam will decide on potential joint production of an anti-ballistic missile system at the earliest by the end of the 2019. However, even if all the conditions are appropriate for Eurosam and Turkish joint production, first product of this cooperation is not expected to be ready at least until 2025.
Responding to questions as to why Turkey is still purchasing Russia’s S-400 defense system after agreeing to develop with NATO allies France and Italy, defense industry researcher Turan Oğuz said that fulfillment of the country’s urgent needs is the main reason. “Russian S-400s will start to be delivered in 2019. However, we need at least eight to 10 years to develop similar projects with Eurosam. Thus, Turkey’s decision to buy S-400s to fulfill urgent security requirements is logical.” Defense industry expert Mevlütoğlu shared a similar thought. “Turkey’s decision to buy S-400s for its short-term needs while cooperating with Eurosam for its middle-term needs is consistent.”