Turkey May Restart Missile Defense Program

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ANKARA — Turkey’s procurement bureaucracy is rethinking a multibillion dollar program to build the country’s first air and missile defense program, keeping “all options open,” including scrapping the existing competition and merging it with a longer-range program with better capabilities.

That contest has not yet been announced, but procurement officials say one option to overcome the deadlock could be to renew the program.

“There is a degree of uncertainty, which requires evaluating all existing options and waiting for a push from the government in one direction,” said one senior official familiar with the long-range air and missile defense program (T-LORAMIDS).

In September 2013, Turkey selected China Precision Machinery Import Export Corp. (CPMIEC) to build the 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.

Turkish officials said if contract negotiations with CPMIEC fail, talks would be opened with the second place finisher, Eurosam. Next in line would be the US bidder. The Russian option was eliminated.

This summer, Turkey extended for the fifth time the deadline for all three bidders. Turkey’s procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), said on Aug. 26 that the Aug. 31 deadline would be pushed to Dec. 31. But while talks with CPMIEC are officially proceeding, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said early in September that parallel talks with Eurosam also had been opened.

“Some disagreements have emerged with China on the issues of joint production and technology transfer ,” Erdogan said on Sept. 7. “Talks are continuing despite that, but France, which is second on the list, has come up with a new offer. We are holding ongoing talks with France. Here, joint production is important to us.”

A government procurement official added that the talks with the Chinese “are not making any progress. … Talks with the European contender look more promising, but the top management [at SSM] is also considering to rewrite the entire program.”

An official from the program’s local prime contractor, defense electronics specialist Aselsan, said Turkey could scrap T-LORAMIDS and instead launch a new program based on its planned, advanced version, T-LORAMIDS+, which is a Turkish aspiration of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense program. That US Army anti-ballistic missile system is designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles in their terminal phase using a hit-to-kill approach.

“One idea could be to co-develop T-LORAMIDS+ with the Europeans as a longer-term solution and lease some of their systems as a bridge gap solution,” the Aselsan official said.

Although the Aster is not the Turkish military’s favored solution, the government leans toward Eurosam, a prime ministerial aide said. “There are differences of opinion between the end user and the government,” he said. “But of course the final decision will be made by the government. We want to find a solution to make everyone happy.”

Meanwhile, the US contenders are silently waiting to get into the picture, with no clear sign of success so far. But “if we decide to go for a renewed contract, the competition will start over with all contenders standing on equal footing,” the procurement official said.

Recently, Lockheed and Roketsan signed a deal to produce the Turkish state-controlled company’s SOM-J cruise missile for the international F-35 fighter. The agreement, signed here, involves development, production, marketing, selling and supporting the SOM-J for internal carriage on the F-35 or external carriage on other aircraft.

The SOM system is an autonomous, long-range, high-precision air-to-surface cruise missile. Industry sources said the deal comes as part of Turkish industry participation in the JSF program. Turkey plans to buy 100 F-35s.

The government has come under increased pressure from NATO allies to rethink the decision to work with CPMIEC. This year, Turkey’s Western allies warned that if Turkey finalized the deal, its entire defense cooperation with Western counterparts, including defense and non-defense firms, could be jeopardized.

The Turkish program consists of radar, launcher and interceptor missiles. It has been designed to counter enemy aircraft and missiles. Turkey has no long-range air defense systems.

About half of Turkey’s network-based air defense picture has been paid for by NATO. The country is part of NATO’s Air Defense Ground Environment. Without NATO’s consent, it will be impossible for Turkey to make the planned Chinese system operable with these assets, some analysts say. ■

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