Turkey, eager to help augment its border defenses, has announced that it will soon submit a request to the NATO alliance for the deployment of Patriot missiles. As I mentioned yesterday, the PAC-3 missile is unlikely to be used for a no-fly-zone. It is extremely expensive and designed primarily for defense against ballistic missiles. While the system could – in theory – be used to try and deter Assad’s aircraft from entering a border zone, it does not address Syrian artillery, and would have to be augmented with multiple units to provide complete coverage over a wide area. The excitement about whether or not the Patriot will be used for a “zone” has deflected many from asking why Turkey does not already have its own Patriots?
During the 1990s, Ankara became acutely aware of the proliferation of missiles in the Middle East. This prompted Turkey’s leadership to identify missile defense as critical for the nation’s future security. Turkey first turned to Israel in 1997 for the Arrow missile system. The Arrow was designed specifically to intercept scuds, and is seen as better suited to Turkey’s defense needs than Patriot. As the Arrow’s primary funder, the United States had to approve of the export of the equipment. During the 1990s, however, the U.S. was against deal and argued against the transfer of the system to Turkey. (This had to do mainly with the Missile Technology Control Regime restrictions on missile exports) In the early 2000s, the United States dropped its objections and joined the negotiations. The three sides eventually envisioned the joint development of a Turkish ballistic missile defense system with either Patriot or Arrow. The Turkish financial crisis eventually froze the discussions, though Israeli and Turkish officials did continue to hold some talks for missile defense sales.
The issue of missile defense popped up again during the negotiations for NATO’s new strategic concept. Turkey had been asked to host a missile defense radar at a U.S. military base in Kurecik. Ankara, which at the time was enjoying an uptick in relations with Iran, objected to the French backed proposal to include the Islamic Republic as a direct threat to the alliance. Turkey objected, arguing that NATO’s missile defense plans are defensive and not targeted at any country in particular. Ankara believes that isolating Iran empowers the hardliners and makes the idea of negotiated settlement to the nuclear issue less likely.
Critically, Turkey was not against missile defense as a concept. They were against naming Iran a threat. Moreover, Ankara wanted assurances that the radar would provide complete territorial coverage and that Turkish military personnel would be stationed at the radar site. After the alliance dropped the language naming Iran as a threat – and agreed to most of Ankara’s demands- Turkey and the United States quickly concluded a deal for the deployment of the radar. It is worth repeating – Turkey never wavered in its belief in missile defense as a concept, but was more interested in the Strategic Concept’s language and gaurantees for territorial coverage.
Shortly thereafter, Ankara announced that it was pursuing long range air defenses to be deployed in Ankara, Istanbul, and two other undisclosed locations. Turkey approached the United States’ Raytheon for the Patriot PAC-3, Russia’s Rosoboronexport for the S-300, China’s Precision Machinery Export Import Corp (CPMIEC) for the HQ9 FD-2000, and the Italian-French Eurosam for the SAMP/T Aster 30. Critically, Raytheon was not offering to transfer technology. Eurosam, on the other hand, was willing to transfer critical design information to Turkish defense contractors (Hold on to this for a second).
Information about the nature of the Russian deal is not available, though Turkey was hoping that Rosoboronexport would offer the S-400. NATO made clear that it preferred Turkey choose either the American or European system. Officials also made clear that if Turkey chose the Russian or Chinese system, Turkey’s missile defense could not be integrated into NATO’s missile defense system.
Surprisingly, Turkey cancelled the tender in 2012 and chose not to purchase any of the competitors missile systems. While the reason was never released, it appears likely that Ankara wanted access to the design information. Raytheon – which had always been rumored to have been Ankara’s number one choice – made clear that it was not willing to transfer technology. Raytheon’s terms likely included provisions to “black box” critical technologies. The fact that Turkey chose not to purchase missile defense at all – even though Eurosam was offering technology transfer – suggests that Ankara was intent on Patriot from the outset, but wanted to try and force Raytheon to make a concessions.
Turkey’s actions also suggest that the country remains confident in the NATO security guarantee. Despite frequent claims of feeling abandoned by the alliance, Ankara has shown through its actions that it believes it can count on NATO for its security. If it didn’t, Turkey would have opted to purchase a different weapon for its long range air defense needs. To date, Ankara still has no long range air defense and remains reliant on the UK’s Rapier, the United States’ Hawk missiles, and an assortment of shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles for its short range air defense. While Turkey has set aside some money for local Turkish defense firms to construct long air defenses, the programs are still in their infancy.
As a result, Turkey remains dependent on other NATO states for the supply of Patriot. Despite having had some problems with this arrangement – namely the slow delivery of such systems during the first Gulf War – Ankara’s priorities appear to still be focused on purchasing both the weapons systems and the critical design features. Moreover, Ankara’s tender terms could should some light on the system Turkey will ask one of the other allies to provide. If Turkey keeps with tradition, it will ask for the PAC-3 interceptor. It also shows that Turkey is committed to using foreign supplied components to bolster its domestic arms industry.
*For a full break down of Turkey’s history with missile defense click here.