The FD-2000 export variant of the HQ-9 at the Zhuhai Air Show. (Wendell Minnick)
ANKARA — A Turkish decision to commission a Chinese company to build Turkey’s first long-range air and missile defense shield presents any number of challenges to Turkey’s Western allies, both politically and militarily, defense analysts and Western diplomats said.
“How could Turkey, protected by NATO assets, ignore the alliance’s concerns and opt for an air defense system to be built by a non-friendly country?” asked a NATO defense attaché in Ankara.
Turkey announced on Sept. 26 that it awarded the initially $4 billion contract for the air defense architecture to China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp. (CPMIEC), maker of the HQ-9 system.
CPMIEC defeated a US partnership of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, offering the Patriot air defense system; Russia’s Rosoboronexport, marketing the S-300; and the Italian-French consortium Eurosam, maker of the Surface-to-Air-Missile Platform/Terrain Aster 30. Industry sources say the Chinese proposal would cost Turkey $3 billion to $3.5 billion, although officials did not confirm the price.
In February, the United States announced sanctions on CPMIEC for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
The Turkish program consists of radar, launcher and intercept missiles. It has been designed to counter both enemy aircraft and missiles. Turkey has no long-range air defense system.
A Turkish procurement official admitted that Ankara does not fully know at this stage what level of integration it could achieve between the planned air defense system and the NATO and national assets the country possesses. “We will be striving to make this a national system, not a Chinese one, although we will use Chinese technology,” he said. He did not comment on whether the proposed system could be integrated into the NATO assets stationed in Turkey.
But experts, analysts and officials say integration with NATO assets is unlikely. “NATO has the technical capabilities to isolate the Turkish air defense architecture by denying Ankara the interface data necessary for any integration,” a Western defense official said.
A London-based Turkey specialist said Turkey would most likely end up having a standalone system. “[NATO] member nations will refuse any cooperation with Turkey for the integration of the Chinese system into the alliance’s assets deployed in Turkey. This will leave the eventual Turkish architecture in a senseless standalone position,” he said.
About half of Turkey’s network-based air defense picture has been paid for by NATO. They are part of the NATO Air Defense Ground Environment. Without NATO’s consent, it will be impossible for Turkey to make the planned system operate with these assets.
To defend against missile threats, Turkey needs satellite and dedicated ballistic-missile detection and tracking radar, like the NATO radar deployed last year in Kurecik, in southeastern Turkey.
For the anti-aircraft component, Turkey needs an overall picture for data fusion. The Patriot system, for instance, can detect threats with its own radar. So does the Chinese system. But without integrating into a full air picture, the Chinese system could not work efficiently, analysts said.
“Abstracting the air defense system from NATO assets would mean that Turkey will lose half of its radar capabilities,” said one defense analyst here. He said Turkey would need interface data to make its own air defense architecture interoperable with NATO assets, primarily data on the identify friend or foe system. “This is top secret and cannot be installed into any Chinese system,” the analyst said.
The Turkish move also is viewed as a political challenge to the country’s Western allies.
“This is clearly a nod to the SCO [Shanghai Security Cooperation],” a European and NATO ambassador here said. “And a powerful message to [Turkey’s] NATO allies… that Turkey may no longer be the staunch ally it used to be.”
The SCO member states are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Turkey in 2012 won the dialogue partner status at the SCO. This year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would seek membership in SCO, an organization often viewed as a rival to NATO.
But some analysts say awarding the contract to CPMIEC does not mean it will take effect and Turkey will eventually build a system based on Chinese technology.
“At the moment, the average contract negotiation time in the Turkish procurement system [after a winner has been announced] is about two years,” a source said. “And there have been several negotiations ending up in failure before a contract was signed. Even after signing a contract, some programs have failed to materialize. This is a possibility for this one, too.”