Turkey, China and the Future of NATO Defense in the Region
2013-11-09 By Baris Kirdemir
Recently, Turkish authorities decided to start talks with China Precision Machinery Export Import Corporation (CPMIEC) to procure FD-2000 air defense missile systems.
On September 26, Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM) announced that the “Defense Industry Executive Committee” decided to start negotiations with CPMIEC to sign a contract which will include procuring HQ-9 (or FD-2000, as the export variation of the system) systems and missiles which are to be co-produced in Turkey.
Reaction in Western capitals has been one of concern.
Turkish authorities have cautioned that the tender is not finalized yet, and if the U.S. and European companies revise their proposals to meet Turkey’s priorities – and if the negotiations with the Chinese doesn’t produce any results – Ankara will continue to negotiate with the holders of other offers in the short list.
Other than the Chinese FD-2000 system, Patriot (PAC-3) of Raytheon-Lockheed Martin, and Aster 30 SAMP/T of EURSAM are in the final short list.
It was also announced that Russia’s S-300 system is excluded from the shortlist.
Following expression of Western concerns regarding cyber-security, interoperability and Turkey’s political orientation as a NATO member state, Ankara has been sending mixed signals.
Turkish authorities, including the President Abdullah Gul, declared that the decision is not final, and there is a short list, which was headed by the CPMIEC, which offered the best conditions in terms of Turkish priorities.
Yet high-profile political figures, including the PM, and some media channels criticize Western “pressure” by emphasizing that the process is about Turkey’s sovereignty, economic independence and deterrence capability, and no country has the right to question Turkey’s decisions.
The Turkish Approach
Co-production, technology transfer and cheaper prices are determinant factors for Turkey’s decision in favor of FD-2000 system and missiles. Since 1980’s, Turkey has the intention to co-develop the systems it procures.
However, in practice, after the financial crisis in 2001 and the AK Party came to power in 2002, Turkey is inclined to increase its “national” defense industry capabilities by pursuing an assertive agenda for its R&D and procurement programs.
Currently, major projects of Turkish defense industry include ALTAY main battle tank, MILGEM navy assets, ANKA MALE UCAV, ATAK attack helicopter and TF-X project to develop a new fighter aircraft.
In fact, most of these projects include co-development processes with foreign partners.
In January 2013, Turkey revised the conditions of the tender by replacing its “off-the-shelf” label with the priority of “co-development.”
Several official announcements, media reports and analysis from various sources indicate that opportunity of co-development has been the primary motivator for Turkish decision makers, as well as pricing which already gives the Chinese system a crucial advantage over rival systems.
Reportedly, CPMIEC offer includes some technology transfer terms and meets Ankara’s co-production priorities, though how the co-development – or co-production – terms will be defined is not at all clear.
Recent strains with Washington regarding the Syria policy, mass “Gezi park” protests last summer, divergence about the military intervention in Egypt and long-standing slowdown of the membership process with the European Union created a foggy political environment which prevents Ankara from being enthusiastic while dealing with the Western security concerns.
The way American and European media covered and officials reacted to the mass protests last summer in Turkey caused a cautious attitude among the AK Party circles. Prime Minister Erdogan and ministers in his cabinet repeatedly criticized foreign media coverage and blamed foreign intelligence agencies with organizing and provoking the protests.
Turkey’s diverging interests in Syria have been a crucial factor, which caused some negative rhetoric towards the Unites States among Turkish authorities. Prime Minister Erdogan repeatedly criticized Washington’s policy towards Syria for being insufficient.
Currently, Turkey has to face major constraints in terms of the foreign policy towards Middle East, probably since Turkish authorities still have to deal with a Baathist regime in Damascus. The ongoing civil war creates complicated security risks for Turkey, and it is a barrier before decade-old Middle East policy to regain some influence in the region.
Significance and Impact
But it is not just about politics.
It is about defense and security threats and capabilities.
The West clearly came to Turkey’s defense in the Syrian crisis by sending Patriot missiles to Turkey.
And the capabilities of NATO are significantly greater than Turkey can possibly deploy by itself against the myriad of regional threats, threats which China itself is augmenting by its arms transfers to the region.
The security trends in the MENA indicate that Turkey’s neighborhood will remain volatile in foreseeable future. The countries such as Syria and Iran have been using and developing their asymmetric capabilities successfully to counter their conventionally superior adversaries. Both countries hold significant amounts of missile capability additional to their WMD assets.
Recent internationally agreed efforts to eliminate Syrian regime’s chemical warheads remain insufficient since Damascus still has remarkable amount of biological weapons to threaten its neighbors in any conflict.
Major Turkish population centers and military assets remain in range of Iranian and Syrian missiles.
Additionally, Iran’s weapons programs including missile and UAV development make simulations such as possible attacks against Turkey’s newly developing nuclear reactors necessary. The incidents during the Syrian civil war and recurrent threatening rhetoric of Iranian officials are just reminders that Turkey has to deter growing missile and WMD threats.
T-LORAMIDS program has great significance for Turkey’s defensive capability against missile, aircraft and WMD threats it has to face in a volatile region.
Both Iran and Syria cases so far indicate a greater need for Turkey to develop its missile defenses. The lack of domestic capability led Turkey to seek NATO’s support to deploy Patriot systems against Syrian Scud missiles in recent years. Moreover, Turkey had to face with opposition from NATO allies to use missile defense systems during both Iraq wars in the past, which indicated the need to procure or develop its own systems.
If the NATO systems were to be inter-operable, Turkey’s contribution would have some value in terms of NATO’s integrated efforts as a reliable alliance in the future.
Additionally, Turkey and NATO can have a better mutual understanding to make the defense shield cover Turkey’s southeastern areas, which would enhance the coverage of NATO shield and meet Turkey’s security concerns.
Besides, the deal would have, along with other political processes, some cumulative impact on Turkey’s role as a member state in the future of NATO alliance. The campaigns such as the one in Libya indicate that NATO would continue to have a role in terms of global response to various conflict areas.
Turkey’s assertive foreign policy requires it to have a say and capability to contribute during such campaigns. Ballistic missile defense is one of the major decisive factors that have been shaping future of the alliance.
Refraining from full integration for the defense against missiles would create both military and political setbacks for Ankara.
In terms of Turkey’s domestic defense industry and recent efforts, not being integrated to the NATO system would require additional Turkish indigenous effort to replace NATO’s radar, satellite and cueing systems. Refraining to allocate some additional budget for the current deal can cause Turkey extra cost and time to replace NATO’s layered cueing system.
Otherwise, any weapon system that is not integrated or networked with larger layered system such as NATO’s will probably be insufficient in case of a conflict. Indeed, Turkey’s ongoing approval of deployments such as the AN/TPY-2 X-band radar in Malatya-Kurecik is a positive indicator that Ankara intent to be a part of NATO defense shield.
The deal also created some renewed media attention on the changing nature of US-Turkey relations.
Although Washington and Ankara have had some major differences in Syria, Egypt, Iran and Turkish authorities are still cautious because of the “Western” reaction during the mass protests this last summer, the US and Turkey will continue to have parallel interests in many areas. It is not a secret that Turkish foreign policy seeks more flexibility from its ties to old alliances.
However, while Turkey needs to face rivals such as Iran, Russia and China in the regions it has to expand, the US’ withdrawal from the warzones of the last decade and the pivot to Asia requires a deeper cooperation between Ankara and Washington.
Both countries have common priorities in terms of, for example, international security and energy policies. Thus, both the US and Turkey should have some tendency to compromise and have mutual understanding regarding the differences about T-LORAMIDS project.
In terms of the T-LORAMIDS project, there are two primarily probable scenarios.
First, Ankara is likely to respond to concerns of its NATO allies by re-considering the final decision.
There are several factors, which could lead to such an approach:
The Chinese HQ-9/FD-2000 system and missiles would cause Turkey to have a non-interoperable missile and air defense system;
There are major credible concerns of cyber-security of both NATO and Turkish systems and software,
and FD-2000 haven’t been tested in a real combat environment,
Although CPMIEC holds some advantage coming from its pricing, technology transfer and co-production policy, NATO-integrated systems seem more reliable for Turkey’s needs.
Raytheon-Lockheed Martin and Italian-French EUROSAM consortiums would need to revise their offers both to meet Turkey’s demands and perhaps provide Ankara some political flexibility to change publicly well-defended decision.
In other words, a possible change of decision in favor of Aster 30 SAMP/T system is likely, thanks to relatively favorable offer of EUROSAM, meeting Turkish priorities, and inter-operability with NATO assets.
EUROSAM is already holding the second position in Turkey’s shortlist.
The alternative scenario is that Turkey would stick to its decision, either because the other offers are not flexible or the decision becomes irreversible politically.
In this case, the West will have to rethink seriously Turkey’s role as an integrated ally in the region and how best to proceed in defending NATO interests.
Baris Kirdemir is an MPhil candidate, Pakistan National Defence University
Editor’s Note: Defending against missile threats is not simply about missile defenses alone. Turkey is also a member of the F-35 program. The F-35 is a major asset in the attack defense enterprise and will work to integrate its systems with missile defense capabilities as well into an integrated kill chain operation.
How this would happen in Turkey’s case if they procure Chinese systems is not at all clear. Indeed, pursuing this particularly sensitive work with the Chinese might well raise questions about Turkey in the F-35 program.
Singapore has announced that it is purchasing the EUROSAM system which Turkey might consider as well.