ANKARA—The three-nation industry group that builds the Medium Extended Air Defense System is offering Turkey what looks like a customized partnership to construct the country's first long-range air- and missile-defense system.
MEADS officials say the precise nature of their proposal would not be an off-the-shelf acquisition nor a co-production. "We are offering an open-architecture system that aims to take in already existing Turkish systems or help the Turkish industry develop systems to be integrated into the architecture," said Mirko Niederkofler, director for international business development at MEADS. "This will offer unique opportunities to improve Turkish capabilities."
After giving up on an earlier decision to acquire their country's first long-range anti-missile system from a Chinese contractor, Turkey's procurement authorities are now mulling over the potential purchase of the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS).
The United States, Germany and Italy developed the ground-mobile air and missile defense system intended to replace the Patriot missile system through a NATO program. They jointly spent $4 billion for the development of the system.
MEADS hopes to win a German contract this year. The weapons would become operational four years after penning the contract. The proposed deal for Turkey would have similar timing.
Elsewhere in Europe, the Polish government in January also received a proposal from the MEADS team. The proposal includes the production of 16 systems with plans to share the work with Polish industry.
The MEADS system boasts an open architecture, as opposed to closed legacy systems that competed in an earlier – now defunct –Turkish competition. For its long-range air defense system, dubbed T-LORAMIDS, Turkey in September 2013 selected China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp's $3.44 billion solution, which defeated rival bids from Eurosam, maker of the SAMP/T and a consortium of Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, maker of the Patriot system. Under pressure from its NATO allies Turkey later scrapped the deal and the competition.
"The ability to integrate local systems into [MEADS'] open architecture will be significant value added for Turkey," said Luis M. Villanueva from MEADS' international business development.
Company officials think that an eight-battery system would be sufficient to cover an area which legacy systems would need a 12-battery system to cover. "At this stage we don't know how many batteries Turkey would need," said Niederkofler.
Depending on the "momentum," MEADS officials think formal contract negotiations with Turkey could open as early as this year. MEADS teams have been visiting the Turkish capital for preliminary talks on a monthly basis.
Early in 2016 the German government approached Ankara for talks on a potential MEADS deal but an Armenian genocide bill that passed in the Bundestag in June caused political tensions and blocked further talks. Then a coup attempt in Turkey in July badly paralyzed Turkey's military and procurement bureaucracy. "We hope to revive those talks," said Niederkofler. "We continue talks with the Turkish industry."
Turkish officials confirmed talks progressing in a "positive direction. "The [MEADS] system has the potential to earn Turkey a meaningful air defense coverage," said one procurement official. "Yet there are many issues to be discussed before we formalize these talks. Technology transfer and customizing the system with local sub-systems would be important for us."
The official was not optimistic about a quick move to official contract negotiations. "For that stage we will need government-to-government discussions and finally a governmental go-ahead in Ankara," he said.
Both MEADS and Turkish officials confirmed that there would be further talks and "potential progress" on the system at a Munich security conference later this month and the IDEF defense exhibition in May in Turkey.
Turkish officials say MEADS' phased-array radar that provides 360 degrees coverage would be an advantage in covering as large as possible area with fewer systems. "Costs and know-how also will be crucial in our assessment of the system," said one government official in Ankara.
MEADS claims its new design provides users with efficiencies and synergies in making the system more affordable. Advocates say the system design allows up to 50 percent cuts [compared to legacy systems] in operational and maintenance costs which typically account for 70 percent to 80 percent of the entire cost of the system.
Burak Ege Bekdil is a Turkey correspondent for Defense News. He has written for Hurriyet Daily News, and worked as Ankara bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC-e television. He is also a fellow at the Middle East Forum and regularly writes for the Middle East Quarterly and Gatestone Institute.