Evaluating Turkey’s Missile Defense Plans

In January 2013, Lale Sariibrahimoglu and Nicholas de Larrinaga reported:

Turkey has decided to abandon its plans to buy an off-the-shelf system for its T-Loramids surface-to-air missile (SAM) programme and is now seeking to co-develop a SAM system instead. Local and foreign defence industry sources have informed IHS Jane’s that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan used his influence on the Executive Committee (EC) of the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM) during its 3 January meeting to abandon the USD4 billion purchase of 12 SAM systems in favour of the development of an advanced SAM system between Turkey and one of the bidding companies.

Offsets: Turkey’s Unsurprising Missile Defense Demand

At first glance, Turkey’s request indicates that the security establishment, in the near-to-medium term, is comfortable with the NATO security guarantee. Turkey, at least for now, is prepared to rely on NATO supplied Patriot interceptors for its defense against Syrian ballistic missiles.

However, Ankara’s actions do indicate that the country is intent on realizing its long-standing goal of becoming more militarily independent. [From a previous blog post]. In 1985, Turkey passed Law No. 3238, which sought to build up Turkey’s domestic arms industry through a policy of offsets for military procurements . . . Turkey’s first successful offset contract was with General Dynamics for the production of F-16 parts in Turkey. Thus, the deal fell under the definition of a subcontractor direct offset. “Direct offsets involve an agreement for a transaction directly related to the specific weapon system purchased, such as the seller’s acquisition from the purchasing nation of components for the system being purchased. Indirect offsets require the seller to purchase goods or services that are unrelated to the product acquired.” [1]

The deal led to the establishment of a series of criteria for Turkish offsets. They have been updated numerous times, though the current policy prefers the local development of defense items. If the task is too great for Turkish defense firms, Ankara prefers co-development agreements, or, if that proves to be impossible, SSM prefers co-production/co-licensing agreements. [snip]

Thus, a good model for Turkey’s missile defense project is its recent agreement with the United Kingdom for the Rapier anti-aircraft system. According to the Campaign Against Arms Trade, “In August 1999 the UK and Turkey signed a co-production deal for Matra BAe Dynamics’ Rapier Mk28 surface-to-air missiles (SAM). Under the ten-year programme, both countries will establish production lines. 840 missiles will be made for the Turkish Army and Air Force and approximately 1,500 more for the UK Army and Royal Air Force Regiment.”

Ankara’s Questionable Strategy

In 1997, Turkey sought to purchase (I am assuming with a similar offset strategy) the Israeli made Arrow. The US, however, objected to the deal. At first glance, many in Turkey attributed the United States’ objection to the deal as further evidence of the oft mentioned super-secret “Western plot to keep Turkey down”. While this argument remains eternally appealing to large swathes of the Turkish electorate, the United States’ real concern was that Arrow is a Missile Technology Control Regime Category I item. [2] More specifically, the interceptors rocket engines are capable of carrying a 500 kg warhead more than 300 km. The US, therefore, sought to engage with both the Turks and the Israelis for the co-production (certainly the Turks’ demand) of a system similar to the Patriot (A Category II item).  Turkey cancelled the tender after the 2001 financial crisis and the Arrow was excluded from the 2009 tender.

Thus, I do not think it is likely that Turkey and Israel will, once again, open negotiations for the co-production of the Arrow system. Israel claims to follow MTCR export control restrictions, which suggests that Tel Aviv will not re-engage with Ankara on the export of an Arrow like system after the recent detente. (For reference, Turkey has been a member of the MTCR for quite some time now.)

Turkey, therefore, will likely continue to hold talks with the suppliers from the United States, Europe, Russia, and China. The missiles that have been discussed all fall below Category I restrictions, so Ankara could, in theory, strike a co-production agreement similar to its Rapier deal. However, it is unlikely that Ankara will be able to have access to the system’s most sensitive components. For example, Ankara’s submarine project is a co-production deal with German suppliers. While the submarine will use a majority of Turkish made components, the German made propulsion system will be black-boxed.

Ankara, therefore, will certainly not have access to the technology used to guide the missile interceptor, or, in all likelihood, the sensors used to guide the kill vehicle to its target. Ankara, therefore, could be angling to have access to the rocket motors.

Missile Defense: Under Analyzed in Turkey

Missile defenses, however, are not a panacea. While useful they have a number of flaws that limit their effectiveness. [From a National Interest piece I wrote with Shashank Joshi] During the First Gulf War, for instance, the destruction of the Iraqi air force and absence of cruise-missile threats allowed the coalition to configure Patriot batteries to ignore everything except ballistic missiles. Lower and slower threats could be screened out. By 2003, the rise of Iraqi cruise-missile and UAV threats forced a change in tactics. But that shift came at serious cost in terms of friendly fire. During the 2003 Iraq War, an American Patriot battery downed a British Tornado jet killing its crew; a US Navy F/A-18 was also shot down, and a US F-16 was forced to destroy a ground-based radar that had “painted” the jet (that is, locked on to the jet to target interceptor missiles).

The Patriot system can be configured to only deal with ballistic missiles, which would theoretically make the airspace safer for Turkish and allied aircraft. But not without the unavoidable cost of reducing the threat to Syrian jets. In all likelihood, Patriot will not be configured to screen out other threats, in part because Syria—like Iraq in 2003—possesses Russian-supplied cruise missiles. As such, the Patriot deployment will be accompanied by the establishment of strict air corridors for Turkish jets operating on or close to the border, which limits what they can do. [snip]

Iran, which has been the target of Turkey’s missile defense plans for close to two decades, has a number of relatively advanced cruises missiles. Turkey, therefore, would remain vulnerable to cruise missile strikes. Moreover, there has been scant attention to the likely Iranian reaction to Turkey’s acquisition of missile defenses. The attacking state, for example, need only build more missiles than there are interceptors to continue to hold Turkish targets hostage. Lastly, the attacking state could, in theory, use countermeasures and decoys to confuse the interceptor. The countermeasures could be engineered to mimic the flight profile of a ballistic missile warhead re-entering the atmosphere. In turn, the interceptor would have to choose which object to aim at – a process made more difficult should the attacking state launch a large number of ballistic missile at once.

Missile defense, however, does have some advantages for the protection of troops during combat. During the second Gulf War, the PAC-3 intercepted all 9 of the Iraqi ballistic missiles fired at American and allied targets. However, as I mentioned earlier, it is unlikely that Turkey will get its hands on the PAC-3. Critically, the system failed to engage Iraq’s crude cruise missiles, as well as ultra-lights capable of dispersing chemical weapons. The system would, therefore, need to be augmented with airborne sensors to give it more of a chance against a range of low and very slow flying targets.

Is it worth it?

Turkey, it appears, is intent on getting its hands on missile defense for two reasons: 1) For battlefield protection, 2) To benefit its domestic military industry. Turkish officials love repeating that they “live in a dangerous neighborhood” and that they have to take a number of steps to account for its unstable neighbors. Ankara, therefore, appears to covet missile defenses to defend against the Iranian threat. However the recent Syria crisis indicates that Ankara remains willing to accept the NATO security guarantee. Turkey, therefore, continues to have some flexibility during its negotiations with the missile defense suppliers. Nevertheless, the assumption implicit in all of the government’s messaging about the issue is that they work flawlessly and that the only issue that needs to be worked out is the terms of the co-production tender. This is simply not true.

The Turkish tax-payer should, therefore, ask tougher questions about the procurement of ballistic missiles. Will the expensive deal really add to Turkey’s security, or will it simply pressure a country like Iran to build more missiles? Does the government’s procurement policy hinder Turkey’s defense? Has the offset policy resulted in advances for the Turkish defense industry? What impact has the offset policy had on Turkey’s relationship with foreign suppliers? Would the allocation of greater military research and defense spending have a greater impact on Turkey’s defense industry than offsets?

All remain, largely, unasked and unanswered.  Missile defense costs a lot of money and should be subjected to more tax-payer scrutiny.

As always, if you have complaints, questions, or comments tweet @aaronstein1

Stay tuned . . .


[1] Lieutenant Colonel Frank S. Petty, “Defense Offsets: A Strategic Military Perspective,” available at: http://www.disam.dsca.mil/pubs/v.21_4/petty.pdf; Omer Karaspan, “Turkey’s Armament Industries,” MERIP Middle East Report, No. 144, The Middle East: Living by the Sword (Jan. – Feb., 1987), pp. 27-31.

[2] See the MTCR website for a full rundown of the restrictions. Briefly, “Greatest restraint is applied to what are known as Category I items. These items include complete rocket systems (including ballistic missiles, space launch vehicles and sounding rockets) and unmanned air vehicle systems (including cruise missiles systems, target and reconnaissance drones) with capabilities exceeding a 300km/500kg range/payload threshold; production facilities for such systems; and major sub-systems including rocket stages, re-entry vehicles, rocket engines, guidance systems and warhead mechanisms.”

About aaronstein1

I am an Istanbul based PhD Candidate a King's College London.
This entry was posted in Missile Defense, NATO, Turkey. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s