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Turkey To Buy $5.5B in Weapons

NATO Concerned by Russian, Chinese Interest

Jun. 10, 2012 - 12:58PM   |  
By UMIT ENGINSOY and BURAK EGE BEKDIL   |   Comments
Contenders for Turkey's missile defense system include an Aster 30 SAMP/T missile similar to this one, tested last year by the French military.
Contenders for Turkey's missile defense system include an Aster 30 SAMP/T missile similar to this one, tested last year by the French military. (French Defense Ministry)
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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish authorities are preparing to announce in early July their choices on two critical weapon systems totaling more than $5.5 billion, one senior procurement official said.

The long-range air and missile defense system, worth more than $4 billion, has attracted companies from China, Europe, Russia and the U.S. Meanwhile, two local shipyards are competing for the country’s indigenous program for building corvettes, totaling $1.5 billion.

The presence of Russian and Chinese competitors for the missile system has drawn security concerns from some NATO allies.

Turkey’s Defense Industry Executive Committee will meet in early July, probably July 4, on the selections and is expected to announce decisions or at least a shorter list.

Competitors in the air and missile defense system include: U.S. partners Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, with their Patriot-based system; Eurosam with its SAMP/T Aster 30; Russia’s Rosoboronexport, marketing the country’s S-300 and S-400 systems; and China’s CPMIEC (China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp.), offering its HQ-9.

Eurosam’s shareholders include MBDA — jointly owned by British BAE Systems, Italian Finmeccanica and pan-European EADS — and France’s Thales. These companies will work with Turkish partners.

“We definitely expect a decision this time. The program was delayed since 2009,” a business official said. “We should see at least a short list of some of the companies.”

Members of the Defense Industry Executive Committee are Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan; Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz; Gen. Necdet Ozel, chief of the Turkish General Staff; and Murad Bayar, head of the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries.

Many Western officials and experts said the Russian and the Chinese systems are not compatible with NATO systems. If a Russian or Chinese company is selected, it might have access to classified information that could compromise NATO’s procedures.

But despite this criticism, Turkey has said there is no need to exclude the countries from the competition.

One Western expert countered: “If, say, the Chinese win the competition, their systems will be in interaction, directly or indirectly, with NATO’s intelligence systems, and this may lead to the leak of critical NATO information to the Chinese, albeit inadvertently. So this is dangerous.”

“NATO won’t let that happen,” said one Western official here familiar with NATO matters. “If the Chinese or the Russians win the Turkish contest, their systems will have to work separately. They won’t be linked to NATO information systems.”

This marks the first time NATO has strongly urged Turkey against choosing the non-Western systems.

“One explanation is that Turkey itself doesn’t plan to select the Chinese or Russian alternatives eventually but still is retaining them among their options to put pressure on the Americans and the Europeans to curb their prices,” the Western expert said.

Turkey’s national air and missile defense program is independent from NATO’s own plans to design, develop and build a collective missile shield.

Under that NATO plan, the alliance has deployed a special X-band radar in Kurecik in eastern Turkey for early detection of missiles launched from the region.

Ideally, in the event of a launch of a ballistic missile from a rogue state, it would be detected by the Turkish-based X-band radar. Then, U.S.-made Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors based initially on U.S. Navy Aegis-equipped destroyers to be deployed in the eastern Mediterranean — and later possibly in Romania — would be fired to hit the incoming missile midflight.

The Defense Industry Executive Committee also is expected to select a national commercial shipyard to manufacture the third through the eighth of the Milgem national corvettes in the $1.5 billion program.

The candidates are RMK Marine, owned by the Koc conglomerate, and Dearsan A.S. The first two corvettes were built at a military shipyard. The first, Heybeliada, has entered service in the Navy, and the second, Buyukada, has been put to sea for tests.

The Milgem program is the first national project for Turkey to construct warships. Corvettes are the smallest of warships; the largest warship in Turkey’s Navy is the frigate, and Turkey plans to use experience gained in the Milgem project, when it is completed, to design, develop and construct its first national frigate, the TF2000, in the 2020s.

“The Milgem has been very useful from the point of design, development and construction of a national ship, and we are going to build on this experience to obtain the capability to build bigger warships,” the procurement official said.

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