Turkey’s long-stalled project to acquire long-range missiles has recently renewed controversy after Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz’s 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 Turkey’s 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 alliance’s air-defense network, Ankara began concurrent talks with rival bidders: French-Italian company Eurosam (SAMP/T 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 NATO’s 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 Erdoğan. Yılmaz, responding to a question posed by Aytuğ Çıray, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said on Feb. 18 that Turkey does not plan to integrate the missile system with NATO defense systems. “The system in question will be integrated with extant Turkish systems of national defense and will be used without integrating it with NATO’s systems,” he said.
However, less than a week had passed before Erdogan’s spokesperson, İbrahim Kalın, attempted to correct Yılmaz’s remarks, saying that, regardless of which bid is selected, the missile systems will be integrated with NATO infrastructure. Four days later, İsmail Demir, head of the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), a state-owned arms procurement agency, contradicted the presidential spokesperson and confirmed Yılmaz’s remarks. “First 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,” 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 Turkey’s 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 Kalin’s remarks indicate that Turkey will not purchase the Chinese HQ-9. Erdoğan, 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…