ANKARA — Turkey has undertaken an ambitious, three-part effort to make the nation a “space power” by 2023, the republic’s centennial.
To achieve that broadly defined goal, the Turks are working to synchronize efforts to build an anti-missile system, develop a long-range offensive missile capability, and construct the country’s first launch center to place satellites in orbit.
“When combined successfully, these three ventures will make Turkey a space power,” said one senior military officer familiar with space and related programs. “We are aware that this is an ambitious goal, but certainly not unattainable, given our fast-growing experience and technological infrastructure.”
Turkey is expected to decide later this year on how to proceed with its plans to build a long-range air-defense and anti-missile system, a program dubbed T-LORAMIDS.
T-LORAMIDS would consist of radars, launchers and interceptor missiles. It has been designed to counter aircraft and missiles. Turkey has no long-range air defense systems.
The bidders are a US partnership of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, offering the Patriot air defense system; Russia’s Rosoboronexport, marketing the S-300; the China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corp., offering its HQ-9; and the Italian-French consortium Eurosam, maker of the Surface-to-Air Missile Platform/Terrain Aster 30.
Procurement officials have indicated Turkey is leaning toward adopting a Chinese long-range anti-missile system, though it might be impossible to integrate the system with its existing NATO architecture. The Chinese proposal was found to be technologically satisfactory, allowed technology transfer and was much cheaper than rival proposals, officials said.
The decision to select the Chinese contender awaits final approval from Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Meanwhile, Turkey is working on another missile/space-related program, but details remain scant.
In 2011, the country announced plans to develop a missile with a maximum range of 2,500 kilometers, not revealing whether it would be a ballistic or cruise missile. Although little information about the program has been released, a Turkish Cabinet minister in January confirmed that the country possesses capabilities to produce a missile with a range of 800 kilometers.
TÜBÍTAK-Sage, an affiliate of state scientific institute TÜBÍTAK, has been awarded the development contract and has indicated that it intends to test a prototype within the next two years. However, independent analysts say this development plan appears to be overly ambitious.
The senior military officer would not comment on this program.
First Launching Center
The third part of the planned space architecture reached a milestone in July, when Turkey approved construction of its first launching center to serve the country’s mushrooming satellite programs.
Turkey’s defense procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, signed a contract with the country’s national missile manufacturer, Roketsan, for pre-conceptual design work to build the Turkish Satellite Launching System (UFS). Under the contract, Roketsan will design the UFS to be capable of launching, initially, satellites into low-earth orbit (500 to 700 kilometers) through a launching center the company will build and the Turkish Air Force will operate.
Some of Turkey’s NATO allies fear that Ankara could also use the launching system for its planned 2,500-kilometer-range missiles, according to Western diplomats.
Right now, the Turkish military’s space-based assets are geared toward intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and Turkey has so far depended on other nations to launch its satellites.
An observation satellite named Gokturk-2 was launched from Jiuquan, China, in December. The satellite was designed and built by TÜBÍTAK’s space technologies research unit, TÜBÍTAK-UZAY, in cooperation with Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI).
Gokturk-2 is Turkey’s second national satellite following RASAT, also developed by TÜBÍTAK-UZAY and launched from Russia in 2011.
In an August report, TÜBÍTAK said Gokturk-2 passed the Defense Ministry’s acceptance tests on June 28.
This year, Turkey’s Defense Industry Executive Committee approved contract negotiations with TAI for domestic development of a synthetic aperture radar spacecraft dubbed Gokturk-3. TÜBÍTAK’s August report said that TÜBÍTAK’s proposals for Gokturk-3’s subsystems are being assessed by TAI.
The country also plans to launch Gokturk-1 in the next few years. Gokturk-1, under construction through a deal with Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space, is a larger and more powerful optical imaging spacecraft capable of sub-meter resolution that is similar to the French Pleiades observation satellites built by EADS-Astrium.
According to a government roadmap for military and civilian satellites, Turkey plans to send into orbit a total of 16 satellites by 2020.
A space industry expert based here said the next five years’ satellite contracts could amount to $2 billion. ■