Oct. 26, 2012 - 07:49AM |
ANKARA — Turkey's highest defense body might decide to indefinitely postpone the country's $4 billion air defense program, effectively killing it, sources and observers said.

In addition to analysts' criticism that the long-range air and missile defense system is too expensive, other recent developments have raised questions about the project.

This month, for example, MBDA of Italy, one arm of bidder Eurosam, arranged a tour for several Turkish journalists to observe firing tests at two Italian land and naval installations. Turkish defense authorities at the last minute declined to permit reporters to visit the Italian sites, and MBDA had to cancel the tour.

This led to speculation that the program was going to be canceled or indefinitely postponed.

Competitors for the contract are Eurosam, maker of the Surface-to-Air Missile Platform/Terrain Aster 30; U.S. partners Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, maker of Patriot-based air defense systems; Russia's Rosoboronexport, marketing the S300; and China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corp., offering its HQ-9. Turkey's top decision-making body on defense in July said talks would continue with four key foreign suppliers.

Turkey has no long-range air-defense systems. All these systems in theory are capable of hitting an incoming aircraft or missile.

Many Western officials and experts said the Russian and Chinese systems are not compatible with NATO systems. Their potential victory could provide them with access to classified NATO information and, as a result, may compromise NATO's procedures. But Turkey so far has ruled against expelling the Chinese and Russian options.

A senior procurement official said a Turkish team has observed the Chinese system's performance and that the program is on track.

“But the Defense Industry Executive Committee will decide on the program. It will select a winner, or may defer the project at the next meeting,” the official said. The committee will next meet in December or early January.
Most analysts say that the system's $4 billion cost is almost prohibitive; that it would be useless against the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party, which fights only with light weapons; and that it would take too long to complete to be of use against Syria.

“Those systems will be ready only years after President Bashar al-Assad is dead,” said Ceyhun Erguven, a defense analyst. “The Turkish Air Force is far stronger than that of Syria and may punish Syria if Damascus does something stupid.”

Among Turkey's neighbors, only Russia is a potential enemy. Georgia and Armenia are small countries. Bulgaria and Greece either do not constitute threats or, like Cyprus, are too small to pick a fight with the Turks. Iraq no longer is an enemy, and only Iran and Syria constitute threats that rate building a large anti-missile system. But Turkey also is under U.S. protection against Iran. In the eastern town of Kurecik, NATO has set up a multinational radar system with elements in Qatar.

Adnan Caglayan, an expert who belongs to the minority not opposing the system, said Turkey should go on with the program.

“It is always good to have such systems against a foe like Iran,” he said. “You don't have a friend like America every time.”