ANKARA — An international controversy over NATO member Turkey’s choice of a Chinese long-range air and anti-missile defense system is deepening, with puzzling remarks from the US, NATO and Turkish officials.
Turkey announced on Sept. 26 that it selected China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp. (CPMIEC) to build the country’s first long-range air defense architecture, sparking a major dispute over whether the Chinese-built system could be integrated with the NATO air defense assets stationed in Turkey.
Since the announcement, officials from the US, Turkey and NATO have given contradictory statements over whether — and to what extent — the system can be integrated with NATO.
The Chinese contender 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 Aster 30.
Washington is also concerned about the involvement of the Chinese winner of a recent Turkish defense contract in nuclear technology, US Ambassador to Ankara Francis J. Ricciardone has said, noting that the United States was conducting talks with Ankara on the issue.
“We are concerned about that [Chinese] company, and its role as a nuclear weapons technology proliferator in the world,” Ricciardone told reporters. “This is not a NATO system. China is not a member of NATO. This is one of the issues [at hand].”
CPMIEC is under US sanctions for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
“The main concern here was that the Turkish government was having contract discussions with a US-sanctioned company for a missile defense system that was not operable with NATO systems,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Sept. 30.
But Turkey’s top procurement official said the Chinese system would be operable with the NATO assets stationed in Turkey.
“As part of this program, a Turkish defense company will be tasked with integrating the air defense system into a network operated by the Turkish Air Force. That integration will mean integration with NATO assets, too, since the Turkish system is fully integrated with the NATO system,” said Murad Bayar, head of the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries. “Full integration with NATO assets was an explicit condition in specifications.”
Bayar said the Chinese bid was $3.44 billion. “If our contract negotiations with CPMIEC fail, we will open talks with the second comer, Eurosam, and that too failing, with the US bidder,” he said. “The Russian option has been eliminated.”
Bayar also said there would be no “reverse information flow” after the Chinese system has been installed in Turkey and connected with the NATO infrastructure. “Our NATO allies should trust us in operating this system in line with NATO rules, just like they trust us now. Integration with NATO assets will not mean Chinese access to NATO-classified technology,” he said.
Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said the deal with CPMIEC is not finalized, echoing Bayar’s remarks. He defended the Turkish decision by saying that the Chinese had offered the best price.
According to Bayar, Turkey selected the Chinese solution because it was better than rival bids in terms of “price, technology, local work share, technology transfer and credit financing terms.” He said: “The Chinese bid is perfectly in compliance with our terms and conditions.”
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 systems.
About half of Turkey’s network-based air defense radar 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 interoperable with these assets, some analysts say.
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.
But according to Bayar, the planned system’s primary mission would be air defenses, with anti-missile mission considered secondary.
“The planned system will meet our operational requirements,” the undersecretary said. “Our priority is to have a national system. The Chinese company has committed itself to granting us all the interface data our Turkish prime contractor will need to integrate the system with the Turkish assets.” ■