Battle for Turkish missiles

A recent statement by the US has reignited a long-running battle between Russia and the US over Turkey's long range air and missile defense acquisition project, estimated to be worth around $4 billion.

Battle for Turkish missiles

Kathryn Schalow, the spokesperson of the US Embassy in Ankara, reiterated that the US has not been negotiating with Turkey over any possible deployment of US missile defense systems in its territory.

Her remarks came in response to increased Turkish media speculation that the US has been seeking to deploy missiles on Turkish soil as part of its missile shield project, under which Washington has long been negotiating with both the Czech Republic and Poland for the installation of anti-missile systems in both countries to counter long-range missiles that may come from what it terms "rogue states."

A statement made by the Pentagon following a visit paid by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Ankara in late February did say that Gates had touched on the missile defense issue with Turkish officials, but fell short of going into detail. It was this statement that contributed to increased speculation by the Turkish media. While denying reports that the US has been negotiating with Turkey over the deployment of missile systems on Turkish soil, Schalow, however, said in a statement to Today's Zaman on Monday that while in Ankara, Gates touched upon Turkey's missile procurement plans.

"Defense Secretary Gates said that any purchase by Turkey [of missile systems] should be in coordination with NATO's defense. He said that Turkey should discuss this issue with its NATO allies," she said.

Schalow's remarks have highlighted long-standing US uneasiness over the fact that Russia has also been competing in Turkey's missile acquisition project worth billions of dollars.

Turkey's Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM) gave the green light to an initial acquisition of four long range air and missile defense systems worth around $1.2 billion in March of last year when it issued a Request for Information (RfI).

Russia, which has already offered its vertically launched S-300 Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM) may instead offer the more advanced S-400 missiles in Turkey's tender depending on the availability of the systems. The US's Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, meanwhile, have jointly been offering a combination of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC 3) and PAC 2 low- to high-altitude surface-to-air missiles (SAM) based on Foreign Military Sales (FMS) credit. The Chinese HQ-9 (reported export designation FD-2000) air-defense system is also competing in the tender.

However, the main competition has been taking place between Russia and the US as Turkey has reportedly increased the number of missiles that it wants to acquire from four to 12, making it worth around $4 billion. The US has long been pressing Turkey to consider interoperability problems that may occur with NATO in the event Ankara opts for Russian missiles.

Despite an earlier preference that emerged among top Turkish commanders toward Russian missiles, local defense industry sources told Today's Zaman that Turkish generals are now more in favor of the US systems. However, the SSM, the country's main military procurement body, might go for the Russian systems if Moscow comes up with an offer to transfer high technology as well as a larger share of work to local companies in the project as part of the Turkish policy of putting emphasis on boosting local industry, which currently dependent on imports for almost 75 percent of its main systems.

It is not yet clear when Turkey will announce the winners of the tender.

Radar deployment on Turkish soil

Independent of the rivalry taking place between Russia and the US over Turkey's missile acquisition project, the deployment of a search radar on Turkish soil as part of the US's missile shield project planned to be implemented in Czech and Polish territories, might be on the agenda, though sources declined to comment on the issue.

But Turkey seeks deployment of missiles if necessary on its soil if the US missile shield program is integrated with NATO's missile system rather than being part of bilateral US missile plans. This policy stems from Ankara's sensitivity over not becoming a target to Iran's possible missile attacks.

The powerful "forward based" radar system would be placed in southeastern Europe, possibly in Turkey, the Caucasus or the Caspian Sea region, Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, head of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, said in remarks delivered almost a month ago at a defense technology conference sponsored by Aviation Week magazine.

In an apparent response to media reports that US Vice President Dick Cheney would raise the issue with Turkish officials in his planned visit to Ankara later this week, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said that such a plan would trigger an arms race and was detrimental to the interests of regional states, Iran's official IRNA new agency reported on Monday. "Of course, Turkish officials have not commented on the issue. The US missile base is a military and security threat to the region," he was quoted as saying by the agency.

Today's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Mart 2008, 10:52