Turkey sends message to West by choosing China for defense system
Neseibe Hicret Soy
Turkey's decision to award China the long-awaited tender for a long-range defense system sends a strong message to the Western bloc that Turkey has alternative partners other than NATO members, experts said.
Associate Professor Ramazan Taş, the head of the economics department at Turgut Özal University, told Today's Zaman that Turkey's decision to co-produce a long-range defense system with China reflects Turkey's desire to cooperate with the other global actors. “In economic terms, the decision shows that Turkey is breaking its full dependency on NATO for defense systems,” Taş said.
Maintaining that other countries such as China, Russia and India are rising powers in defense industry, Taş also pointed out that co-production of the defense system with China will provide for a technology transfer to Turkey. Turkish defense companies will take part in the production of the air defense system along with the Chinese firm. Turkey has launched a robust program to strengthen local production in defense industries in a bid to reduce dependency on the international market.
The Turkish Defense Industry Implementation Committee (SSİK) announced the decision that the contract to co-produce a long-range air and missile defense system worth $4 billion would be awarded to the Chinese firm China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp (CPMIEC) in a statement on Thursday, rejecting rival bids from Russian, US and European firms. CPMIEC was sanctioned by the United States in February for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
Commenting on political aspect of the decision, Taş stated that Turkey wants to be a regional actor that has ties with global powers other than the Western bloc. “This is a political move signaling that the West is not Turkey's only ally. Turkey also previously emphasized that it is seeking membership in the Shanghai organization as a response to the European Union [EU],” Taş added.
As Turkey and the EU have failed to make substantial progress in the accession talks, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan brought the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to the agenda in January, saying that Turkey has been seriously considering becoming a part of the SCO, which Erdoğan considered an alternative at a time when Turkey-EU relations were strained.
Turkey has long purchased its military hardware and other equipment from the US, Germany and its other Western allies as part of a policy of integrating its weapons systems with NATO military equipment.
Murad Bayar, head of the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), recently told Today's Zaman that the necessary tests to have been conducted for each firm and that with the implementation of an interface, Chinese systems could be adapted to integrate with Turkish and NATO weapon systems.
The main competitors for the tender were the Patriot missile long-range air defense system, produced by US partners Raytheon and Lockheed Martin; Russia's Rosoboronexport with its S-400 system; China's HQ9, exported as the FD-2000; and the Italian-French Eurosam and its SAMP/T Aster 30.
China's bid was the lowest, less than$3 billion, which almost certainly had an effect on the outcome. “China offers the cheaper bid with a co-production opportunity in defense systems, unlike the US and other NATO members,” said Atilla Sandıklı, president of the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies (BİLGESAM).
Stating that other NATO members see Turkey as a potential market for weapons sales, Sandıklı said that Turkey's agreement with China to produce defense systems reflects Turkey's discomfort with NATO's approach to Turkey.
Sandıklı also mentioned that the US does not provide high technology products in defense systems and sells lower level weapons. “NATO does not provide the technology transfer opportunities in the production of defense systems that Turkey desires,” Sandıklı explained.
Turkey, which has the second-largest deployable military force in the NATO alliance, has no long-range missile defense system of its own, but NATO deployed the US-built Patriot air and missile defense system in Turkey in 2012.
The Turkish and Chinese militaries conducted a joint aerial exercise in 2010 in central Anatolia, the first such exercise involving the air forces of NATO member Turkey with China. The joint exercise was part of Turkey's Anatolian Eagle maneuvers, which have so far been carried out jointly with the US, other NATO countries and Israel.
Ankara had several times delayed its final decision on the air defense system tender. Turkey had been preparing to purchase a long-range air defense system to beef up its defense capabilities in order to avert any threat to its national security for the past few years but had failed to reach a final decision until now. The SSİK has also delayed its decision on the tender for the local production of Turkey's first aircraft carrier. Three major Turkish companies are competing for the bid.