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September 27, 2013 5:45 pm
Turkey to buy $4bn air defence system from China
By Daniel Dombey in Istanbul
Turkey has announced plans to buy a $4bn air defence system from China, a decision that has surprised and dismayed some of Ankara’s Nato partners.
A government committee chaired by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister, decided this week to proceed with buying the long-range anti-aircraft and ballistic missile system from the state-owned China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation, rejecting rivals bids from western groups. This was despite concerns that the new technology might not work with other Nato systems.
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Furthermore, the US Treasury has imposed sanctions on CPMIEC a number of times, including this year, because of charges that it has been involved in the sharing of missile technology with countries such as North Korea.
Turkish officials said the decision was made on technical and price grounds, an argument echoed by several analysts who say Ankara is keen to get hold of new technology that the US is reluctant to share. Nevertheless, the move comes amid increasing strains with some of Turkey’s allies.
“I doubt that Ankara wants to make grand political statements with tenders of this kind,” said Semih Idiz, a Turkish foreign affairs commentator. “If anything, it needs Nato at the moment.”
But he also noted that Washington and Ankara had recently been at cross purposes. Mr Erdogan is a leading supporter of a sustained military campaign against Syria, for example, a course the Obama administration has chosen not to take.
Western diplomats said they were surprised and disappointed by Ankara’s preference of the Chinese group over rival systems that included Raytheon and Lockheed Martin’s Pac-3 Patriot missile system, and emphasised their worries that the system would not be interoperable with Nato’s defence architecture.
Turkey hosts a radar station at the heart of Nato’s missile defence system. It also temporarily hosts six Patriot missile batteries from the US, Germany and the Netherlands, which have been deployed to the southeast of the country against possible threats from Syria.
The other disappointed bidders were Eurosam, a French-Italian consortium, and Rosobornoexport of Russia.
Ismet Yilmaz, Turkey’s defence minister, said Ankara would seek to draw up a final agreement with CPMIEC and emphasised that the system would be jointly produced in Turkey itself, a concession other bidders balked at.
Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, the defence and security think-tank, said the tender showed that Turkey was focused less on rapidly acquiring battlefield-tested technology and more on bolstering its own domestic defence industry.The country is also seeking to develop its own jet fighters, a satellite launch vehicle and early warning satellites, a long-range missile and a small aircraft carrier.“This type of arrangement, which requires the transfer of design information, is not feasible for American military firms,”
Mr Stein added. “The Patriot Pac-3, for example, is a top-of-the-line item and it would be difficult because of US export controls and intellectual property rules for Raytheon and Lockheed to just simply hand over critical design information to Turkey.”