ANKARA — Turkey’s military and procurement officials are mulling a stopgap, solution and buying off-the-shelf solution after they scrapped a multibillion dollar air defense contract and decided to build it indigenously.
Officials said the military top brass is especially keen for the stopgap solution, citing increasing conventional military threats, especially after Turkey became the first NATO member state to shoot down a Russian military airplane and spark a row.
Turkey’s relations with Russia turned sour, with Russia threatening to punish Turkey "not only by economic sanctions" after Turkish F-16 fighters Nov. 24 shot down a Russian Su-24 after the jet briefly violated the Turkish airspace along Turkey’s Syrian border.
"Turkey now faces multiple conventional threats including from a military heavyweight like Russia and from unreliable states like Iran and Syria," said one senior military officer. "We do not have the luxury not to have a powerful, long-range air defense architecture. We cannot forever rely on NATO assets inside and outside Turkey."
In September 2013, Turkey selected China Precision Machinery Import Export Corp. (CPMIEC) to build the country’s first long-range air and anti-missile defense system. The Chinese company offered a $3.44 billion solution.
The firm defeated a US partnership of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, offering the Patriot air defense system; Russia’s Rosoboronexport, marketing the S-300; and Italian-French consortium Eurosam, maker of the Aster 30.
Under strong pressure from its NATO allies who said that a Chinese system could not be made interoperable with NATO assets on Turkish soil, Turkey opened parallel talks with the US and European contenders.
The Ankara government Nov. 13 scrapped the competition altogether and tasked two local companies to build an indigenous system instead.
Military electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey’s biggest defense company, and missile maker Roketsan, both state-controlled, will develop the system. But there are concerns that the work may take too long.
"We share the military’s concerns that our requirement may be too urgent to wait for the indigenous system in the making," said one procurement official familiar with the program. "We may have to buy two systems off the shelf." The original program was for the acquisition of four systems.
So, the competition game is not over although it may have shrunk by half.
"The natural contenders in the new race will be the same US and European groups," said one industry source. "Delivery timetables will be crucial since Turkey consider this as an urgent buy."
The US consortium commits to deliver the Patriot system within 40 months and the European group commits to deliver the SAMP/T (Aster 30) system in 18 months.
"The delivery timetable for the SAMP/T does not look realistic," said the procurement official. "A more realistic timetable for that system could instead be 30 months."
After consultations with the government officials the military top brass will press for an urgent stopgap solution.
"We will explain to the political leadership in great detail why we must have some [long-range] systems before any indigenous system emerges," said the military official.
An adviser to the Turkish administration agrees: "I firmly believe that our leaders will agree with the military's assessment — at times like this."
Burak Ege Bekdil is the Turkey correspondent for Defense News.