The FD-2000 export variant of the HQ-9 is shown at the Zhuhai Air Show. (Wendell Minnick / Staff)
ANKARA — NATO member Turkey’s stunning decision to select a Chinese contender to build the country’s first long-range air and missile-defense system does not mean that the game is over for US and European companies that bid for the prize, government officials said.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters Oct. 25 that Ankara would be open to new offers if talks with China Precision Machinery Import Export Corp. (CPMIEC) fail. “Currently, I don’t know if there are different proposals from the other parties. If there are, they could be considered,” Erdogan said.
A senior procurement official said the decision to select CPMIEC may not be the end but rather the beginning of a fresh round of competition. “The game is certainly not over yet. We would enthusiastically assess rival bids if they make sense in terms of costs and the level of technology transfer we require,” he said.
Turkey announced Sept. 26 that it selected 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.
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. Turkey has said Eurosam came second in the competition, Raytheon third and the Russian solution was eliminated.
Murad Bayar, Turkey’s top procurement official, said the Chinese offer was priced at US $3.44 billion. CPMIEC is under US sanctions for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
Despite warnings from US and NATO officials over interoperability problems, Bayar said the Chinese system would be operable with the NATO assets stationed in Turkey.
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. The Chinese bid is perfectly in compliance with our terms and conditions.”
But US Ambassador to Ankara Francis Ricciardone told reporters Oct. 24 that the United States was very concerned about the China missile defense deal. He said he understands the deal was a commercial decision and was within Turkey’s sovereign right, but that the United States shared NATO’s concerns, including what it means for allied air defense.
A US administration official in Washington said in a telephone interview that “the United States was much more concerned over the deal than it expressed.”
But Turkey’s Army chief remained defiant. “We have not been notified of any concern from the United States,” Chief of General Staff Army Gen. Necdet Ozel told reporters Oct. 29.
Reuters quoted sources as saying that Turkey had asked the US to extend the pricing on Raytheon’s proposal, a sign that Ankara is keeping its options open in case talks with CPMIEC fall through. Raytheon said Oct. 24 that it was still ready to sell its Patriot system to Turkey if Ankara changed its mind.
An official from Eurosam said Oct. 28 that the company was working hard to improve its offer, “especially in view of Turkish sensitivities about technology transfer.”
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 Chinese system interoperable with these assets, some analysts say.
To defend against missile threats, Turkey needs satellite and dedicated ballistic-missile detection and tracking radar, such as 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.