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Turkey's Air and Missile Defense Acquisition Journey Continues

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After the United States confirmed that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on 21 August, the Patriot PAC-3 batteries deployed at the Turkish-Syrian border have been on alert status.  Turkey requested the deployment of NATO missile defenses after Syria shot down a Turkish RF-4E in June 2012 and a stray artillery shell killed 5 civilians in the border town of Akcakale later that year.

In order to increase its passive defenses against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) attacks across the border, the Turkish government has intensified military exercises and has deployed specialized CBRN teams to the border areas. In spite of these efforts, the Turkish government remains reliant on NATO deployed missile defense systems for protection from ballistic missile attack. Yet, on 26 September, the Turkish Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM) executive committee, which is the national defense procurement agency, announced that the China Precision Machinery Import Export Corporation’s (CPMIEC) HQ-9 (the export version is known as the FD-2000) won Turkey’s five year old tender to purchase a long-range air and missile defense system.  Although Turkey has decided to start bilateral negotiations with China, the contract has not been finalized.

Despite the continued missile threat, Ankara’s top priority is the conclusion of an agreement that allows for a co-production and co-licensing arrangement. The procurement strategy suggests that Turkey’s top priority is technology transfer, rather than the rapid acquisition of an “off-the-shelf” system to immediately address Turkey’s security needs. Thus, while Ankara had received bids from American, European, and Russian defense firms, the combination of the systems’ lower price and China’s willingness to coproduce the system in Turkey led to the decision to select the HQ-9.

Yet, for the third time since 1991, Ankara has had to make preparations to defend against a possible WMD attack. In the short term, Turkey should continue to rely on NATO’s Patriot interceptors for security. However, in the long term, Ankara’s selection of a Chinese missile defense system will likely preclude Ankara from taking advantage of NATO’s missile defense architecture.

While Ankara claims that the system will use Aselsan’s Herikks/Skywatcher command and control system, NATO officials have indicated that the system will not be interoperable with the sensors/radars deployed for the Alliance’s missile defense system. Thus, while Turkish HQ-9 operators may be able to see NATO’s complete air picture, they will, in all likelihood, not be able to benefit from the slew of other systems (early warning satellites, forward deployed X-band radars, and Aegis combat ships) that provide cueing information for NATO’s missile defense system.

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