Turkey’s Missile Defense Decision: Ankara will miss NATO Cueing Capabilities

After more than a decade, Turkey has finally selected a supplier for a long-range air and missile defense system. Turkey first prioritized missile defense in 1997 and began discussions with Israel for the coproduction of the Arrow system. The United States objected to the potential coproduction arrangement over concerns that the Arrow interceptor is a Missile Technology Control Regime Category 1 item. For reference, the MTCR is an informal group of 34 states (Turkey is a member) that have agreed to adopt national export control policies that incorporate a common export control list. Controlled items are divided into two categories. Countries are expected to apply the greatest restraint to the export of Category 1 items, which include rockets, missiles, and drones that can fly more than 300 kilometers while carrying a 500 kg payload.  Category 2 items may be capable of flying more than 300 km, but only when carrying light payloads.

Israel is not a member of the MTCR, but reportedly follows the export control guidelines. As the Arrow’s primary funder, the United States must be consulted before the system is exported. In any case, in 2001, the United States agreed to a coproduction arrangement with Israel and Turkey for the coproduction of a system similar to the MTCR Category 2 Patriot. Turkey then cancelled the negotiations after the financial crisis. Ankara relaunched the tender in 2009 and began negotiations with four suppliers – Raytheon/Lockheed Martin for the Patriot system, MBDA for the Aster 30 Samp/T, Russia’s S-300 (possibly for the S-400), and China’s Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation’s (CPMIEC) HQ-9 (The export version is dubbed the FD-2000).

During the tender negotiations, NATO indicated that neither the S-300, nor the HQ-9 could be integrated with the Alliance’s proposed missile defense system. The European missile defense system, which the United States has dubbed the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), relies on the Standard-Missile 3 (SM-3) interceptor, deployed on Aegis ships in the Mediterranean. The system is intended to defend against medium and short range Iranian missile threats. Over time, the system is intended to be augmented to defend against longer range threats. In January 2013, Turkey – reportedly at the behest of the Prime Minister – changed the terms of the tender. After a four year pursuit of an “off-the-shelf” purchase, Ankara asked for the producers to submit a bid for a coproduction arrangement. These arrangements are problematic for the United States. For one, Raytheon/Lockheed are private companies and are therefore not in the habit of sharing design information of their most advanced products with anyone. Moreover, U.S. export control and intellectual property laws further complicate the sharing of U.S. origin information. Thus, after the change, it was very unlikely that the U.S. firms would win the tender. However, MBDA – the producer of the Samp/T – had offered to transfer design information to Turkey. The European system can be integrated with the EPAA and was therefore – at least in my mind – thought to be the front runner.

The EPAA relies on space based early warning satellites and forward deployed X-Band radars in Turkey, Israel, and, in time, early warning radars in Qatar, to help cue the SM-3 interceptors. Over time, the United States plans to deploy upgraded SM-3s (essentially faster missiles with a more capable kill vehicle) aboard the Aegis missile ships and, beginning in ~2015, a land based version of the SM-3 will be deployed in Romania. In ~2018, a second deployment of land-based SM-3s are expected to be deployed in Poland. In the later phases, the enhanced SM-3s deployed on land and at sea are intended to address the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threat and are expected to provide all of Europe with protection. The sensors and interceptors will be brought together under the Aegis combat system. The European component of the system is  integrated for battle management at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.

The SM-3 is designed to intercept missiles in space. Yet, this poses problems for the defense. The SM-3’s kill vehicle relies on infrared to track targets in space. Thus, the sensor looks for globs of light to aim at, after all of the ancillary systems guide the interceptor towards the incoming ballistic missiles. However, in space, there is no oxygen, which means that all objects will travel at the same speed (no friction!). Therefore, if an attacking states releases countermeasures – i.e., balloons, chaff, etc. – the interceptor’s kill vehicle (KV) is unlikely to be able to distinguish between the different globs of light it is aiming at. The KV does not have in exploding warhead, which means that it destroys the attacking warhead via kinetic energy. Thus, if it misses  – and say intercepts a decoy – the incoming warhead will continue unimpeded.

Scientists have yet to come up with a solution to this problem. Anyways, for Turkey, the exoatmospheric intercept, means that certain parts of the country are not covered by the EPPA architecture. Thus, Ankara has an incentive to pursue theater missile defenses (TMD). The National Academy of Sciences has concluded that Turkey requires a separate defense using THAAD or an equivalent system to defend against shorter-range threats. This system, whether it be THAAD, or something else like Patriot or the SAMP/T, would then be networked with the Aegis software, which would then help cue the interceptor.

So what does this mean? Well, first, one has to identify the main threats to Turkey’s security. As of now, Ankara only faces a ballistic missile threat from Russia, Syria, and Iran. Yet, given the capabilities of the SM-3 interceptor – and Russia’s extensive use of decoys and countermeasures – the idea that NATO could shoot down a serious Russian attack is, well, not credible. Turkey, therefore, has an incentive to pursue a defense against the slower Scud based threat – and in the case of Iran, the threat posed by its solid fuel missiles. Moreover, if one were to take the threat assessment one step further, if Ankara were to engage in a land-war with a potential adversary, one would expect the armed forces to covet a defense against ballistic missiles. However, if one surveys Ankara’s potential foes, the only conceivable threats are, again, Iran and Syria. (Why not Greece? – I believe that the United States would prevent any conflict between the two, given their standing in NATO and America’s longstanding interest in tamping down hostilities. The same applies for Cyprus.)

In a hypothetical conflict with either Iran or Syria that involved the use of ballistic missiles, the proposed NATO system would work as follows: 1) American early warning satellites would detect the missile launch; 2) Soon thereafter the early warning X-band radars would begin to track the missile; 3) After determining the likely trajectory, the information would be transmitted to the Aegis ships. The radars on the ships would then have a smaller window in which to search for the missile; 4) After the Aegis ships acquires the missile, it will fire the interceptor. The radar on board would then help guide the interceptor missile to the target; 5) Finally, the KV would detach from the missile and then rely on its sensors to find and then destroy the target.

For a TMD system deployed in Turkey, the system would work in much the same way, albeit with a different sequence (Patriot also does not have a KV). The TMD would still rely on satellites and the forward deployed X-Band radar to narrow the area in which the TMD’s radar would search for the missile. Yet, unlike the SM-3 system, the TMD would intercept the target upon atmospheric reentry. In turn, this means that the decoy and countermeasure issue is not nearly as big a problem for TMD systems. The value of the forward deployed X-Band radar is that it allows the defender – whether it be Turkey or NATO – to pick up the missile launch more quickly. In addition, it is more powerful than the TMD’s radar, which allows it to look deeper into Iran, which, again, allows for system to see missile launches earlier. And, when you are trying to intercept a missile, every second counts.

Ankara, however, opted to purchase the HQ-9, in spite of its lack of interoperability with NATO’s EPAA system. Ankara maintains that it chose the Chinese system because they offered complete technology transfer, a very generous coproduction arrangement, and because it was much cheaper than the others. Turkey indicated that the MBDA was second and that the Patriot system was third. The Russian system had been eliminated before the decision was made. The decision suggests two things about Turkish defense thinking: 1) Coproduction arrangements are the most important factor when making decisions; 2) Price matters.

As a result of Turkey’s decision, Ankara will not be able to take advantage of the EPAA’s sensor network. Turkish officials have disputed this assertion, saying that because the system will use the domestically produced Herikks/Skywatcher system, HQ-9 operators will have access to all of NATO’s early warning assets. Perhaps. But this description is a twisting of the truth. While missile operators may be able to see the complete air picture, the system will not have access to the combat management software that cues the missile defense interceptors. Ankara’s system will therefore operate independently of the slew of sensors NATO plans to deploy between now and ~2020. If one considers missile flight times in the region – perhaps as little as 5-10 minutes from points in Iran and Syria to major Turkish population centers – the earlier the launch is detected the better.

The only TMD to have been tested in combat is the Patriot system. The system has a mixed operational record. In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the system did succeed in intercepting all 9 of the ballistic missiles that it chose to engage. However, it is worth noting that those missiles were not scuds, but were lower and slower flying al-Samouds. Patriot missed every one of Iraq’s crude cruise missiles, as well as an ultralight aircraft. For reference, cruise missiles, drones, and ultralights are far more efficient at delivering biological and chemical weapons than ballistic missiles. Moreover, Patriot fired on friendly pilots during the conflict. The system, therefore, is not infallible and has some notable drawbacks that include: 1) Absent sensor upgrades, it lacks the capability to engage cruise missiles and ultra-lights; 2) In a crowded air environment, it has the tendency to fire on “friendly pilots”; 3) It has never actually intercepted a Scud in combat. All three other systems, however, have the same vulnerabilities.

So what did Turkey actually achieve when it selected the HQ-9? For one, Ankara now has a formidable air defense system. The HQ-9 has been marketed as an “AWACS Killer.” It is reported to search for emissions, which would also make it an ideal defense against drones. Iran has a relatively advanced drone program that Turkish security planners probably keep a pretty close eye on. In addition, the HQ-9 – which is reportedly based on the S-300 – will provide a capable defense against aircraft. But, again, one has to go back to the threats Turkey faces. If Turkey is primarily concerned about ballistic missiles and WMD, then the HQ-9  is unlikely to provide a robust defense. The system has never been tested in combat and the interceptor is the slowest of the other three TMDs that were considered. Lastly, as with all of the others, it lacks the capability to target cruise missiles. In addition, the system will not be interoperable with the EPAA’s sensors.

While the Samp/T has also never been tested in combat, it could have been integrated with the NATO system. Thus, while Turkey would still be vulnerable, it would have at least benefited from NATO cueing information. The system would then have truly been a layered defense, meaning that all of the interceptors – the SM-3 and those deployed with the TMD –  would have been networked and the defense could have tried to take multiple shots at an incoming missile salvo. (For reference, Ankara and Istanbul are covered by the SM-3). Given these vulnerabilities, Turkey would have been better served to choose the Samp/T because the system can be integrated with NATO and MBDA was offering technology transfer. However, that would have required Ankara to spend a little more money up front and to make a few sacrifices on the coproduction arrangement. The choice, therefore, is not a signal to the “West,” but rather an indication of the major factors that influence Turkey’s procurement decision-making. Those factors elevate price and coproduction over defense, I am sorry to say.

As always, send along your comments or criticisms to @aaronstein1 on twitter.

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About aaronstein1

I am an Istanbul based PhD Candidate a King's College London.
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4 Responses to Turkey’s Missile Defense Decision: Ankara will miss NATO Cueing Capabilities

  1. Pingback: Türkei: Machtspiele mit der Raketenabwehr – Mit Sicherheit

  2. Pingback: Musings on Missile Defense and Turkey’s Defense Doctrine | Turkey Wonk: Nuclear and Political Musings in Turkey and Beyond

  3. Pingback: Turkey and the U.S. – Hearing But Not Listening | Ottomans and Zionists

  4. Pingback: More thoughts on Turkey and Missile Defense Decision-Making | Turkey Wonk: Nuclear and Political Musings in Turkey and Beyond

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