8 August 2013
Turkey's plans for missile defense are shaping up
By Nilsu Goren
Arms Control and Regional Security for the Middle East


Turkey has recently intensified its quest for a national air and missile defense system. However, problems still abound as NATO has given Turkey a marginal role to host an early-warning radar system and did not provide a security assurance to protect the entire Turkish territory against missile threats. Turkey’s position is further complicated by alliance politics and regional security considerations as the decision to host the radar has antagonized Iran.

The Obama administration broke with the missile defense policies of the Bush administration and adopted a policy that integrates U.S. capabilities into a NATO system. The new approach, called the Active Layered Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD), was introduced at the NATO Lisbon Summit in December 2010. The new missile defense architecture makes the Eastern Mediterranean the center of gravity to address shorter-range missiles. The Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) consists of deployments in four main phases from 2011 to 2025 (with a possible extension due to delays in implementation so far), centered on the sea-based Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor to be upgraded and integrated to land and space-based sensors. Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) is the core of the PAA to counter short and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The initial system consists of 4 Aegis Class cruisers, 15 Arleigh Burke Class destroyers, land-based SM-3 interceptors to be deployed in Romania and Poland in 2015 and 2018 respectively, and an X-band radar in Turkey that became operational in 2012.[1]

ALTBMD has a $250 to $300 billion declared budget for ten years. It has been criticized in academic and policy circles for its hefty budget, technical capacity, and security value of its mission in order to counter ballistic missile threats. The United States has allocated its Aegis platforms as the core of ALTBMD, whose command and control will be shared by NATO members in a crisis as first line of defense to intercept missiles in boost and mid-course phases.

Yet, SM-3s are designed to intercept missiles above the atmosphere, meaning that they are vulnerable to decoys, countermeasures and multiple missile attacks. Moreover, it is clear that Russia and China perceive missile defense as a threat to their strategic nuclear capabilities. The selection of Romania and Poland is of special concern to Russia due to geographical proximity. Russia has emphasized the need for a legally-binding assurance that the missile defense system will not be directed at Russian strategic nuclear forces, and the United States has made it clear that a legal restriction is off the table. Thus, ALTBMD is criticized to be adversarial and against strategic arms control cooperation and destabilizing deterrence. The only countries that have prioritized ALTBMD have been the ones considering missile cooperation as a form of establishing closer ties with the United States for other strategic purposes, as in the case of Turkey.

In September 2011, Turkey agreed to station the U.S. early-warning radar in the southeastern city of Kurecik, Malatya, which is 450 miles away from the Turkish-Iranian border, under the condition that no document would directly name Iran as the rogue threat. “The Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance (AN/TPY-2)” is an X-band, high resolution radar designed for ballistic missile defense that can be “coupled with layered sensors, give the BMD a continuous tracking and discrimination capability.”[2] It is evident that Turkey hopes to gain broader security cooperation by hosting the radar that operates at the already-existing U.S. military base in Kurecik. The radar created lots of controversy in domestic and international audiences, especially in the city of Malatya, Iran, and Russia. “If Iran wants to dispatch a ballistic missile, no threat will be effective and we declare they should be on alert about their own defense missile shield if they want to shoot down our missiles” said an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, when asked about the deployment of the X-band radar in Turkey.[3] Iranian short to mid-range missile programs have progressed more rapidly than its ICBM and long-range capabilities (Iran has recently test-fired a new, more accurate short-range missile capable of striking land and sea targets).[4] The range of the threat exposes particular risks to Turkey, whose entire territory is within the span.

Air and missile defense has become the top issue in Turkey’s defense modernization agenda in recent years. While many European countries were facing deficit crises, Turkey, the everlasting EU candidate, increased its defense spending to an all-time high of $5 billion in 2011.][5] Turkish defense industry leader ASELSAN and the missile contractor ROKETSAN signed an agreement with the Under-secretariat for Defense Industries and started to manufacture low and mid-altitude air defense systems worth approximately €200 million Euros and €130 million Euros respectively. [6] These ambitious programs are expected to be matched by a parallel increase in the local defense industry’s export capabilities, especially in armored vehicles. The existing technologies that Turkey utilizes are Rapier and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles for short-range and modernized I-Hawk missiles for mid-range threats.[7]

In April 2009, the Turkish Under-secretariat for the Defense Industry issued a proposal for the purchase of a long-range air and missile defense system to be installed in four regions, including Ankara, Istanbul, and two confidential locations. Also in 2009, the United States announced the plan to sell a $7.8 billion Patriot system composed of 13 fire units, 72 PAC-3 missiles, and ground-based air defense equipment to Turkey.[8] This project was postponed due to the expectation that the NATO missile defense system would be extended to cover Turkey. Yet, in the Lisbon Summit the plans were revealed to install a radar system only, leading Turkey to plan to establish its own missile defense system.[9] The companies filed a bid with the following systems in the $4 billion dollar Turkish Long Range Air and Missile Defense System (T-LORAMIDS) tender in 2011:

  • U.S. partnership between Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, Patriot air defense systems, PAC-3s that can be integrated to the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, yet no technology transfer offer.
  • Russian Rosoboronexport, S-300, with the possibility of negotiation for S-400, possessed also by Greece and Greek Cyprus that are of concern to Turkey.
  • China Precision Machinery Export Import Corp (CPMIEC), HQ9, FD-2000.
  • Italian-French Eurosam, SAMP/T Aster 30, with an additional offer for technology transfer and to support Turkish full membership to the Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation.[10]

Turkey has been seeking reassurance from NATO that the new ALTBMD architecture will address immediate threats on Turkish territory, yet to no avail. Therefore, T-LORAMIDS aims to counter both enemy aircraft and missiles. The issue has intensified in the aftermath of the recent Turkish jet downed by the Syrian military (See: http://www.middleeast-armscontrol.com/2012/07/08/interview-with-sitki-egeli/) and the tender is expected to be finalized soon.[11] Russian and Chinese systems are cheaper but they are technologically less advanced and more difficult to integrate with NATO systems. Air defense radars are capable of providing surveillance data, meaning that having Russian or Chinese systems in Turkey would lead to complications for NATO intelligence-sharing.

Turkey seems determined to procure an air and missile defense system with long-range capability, despite the technical limitations and high costs of this technology. The tender is still not finalized because Turkey is trying to enhance its hand by pushing several parties to lower the prices and encouraging Russia to bid for the S-400 system instead of the S-300 system. If Turkey decides to choose a non-US system to procure, NATO has made it clear that the air and missile defense system will not be compatible with its ballistic missile defense architecture, i.e. the intelligence-sharing with Turkey due to the Turkish role in BMD with the radar will be disrupted. Since Turkey’s role in future phases of BMD is unclear, the decision to finalize the tender is going to clarify if Turkey will be shielded by or excluded from ALTBMD.

Nilsu Goren, a Federation of American Scientists scholar," is a graduate fellow at the Center for International and Security Studies (CISSM) at the University of Maryland, College Park where she is pursuing a Ph.D. with a focus on Turkish defense and nonproliferation issues.

[1] “Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense,” Missile Defense Agency at the U.S. Department of Defense, available at: http://www.mda.mil/system/aegis_bmd.html

[2] “Fact Sheet,” Missile Defense Agency, July 2011, available at http://www.mda.mil/global/documents/pdf/an_tpy2.pdf

[3] “Iran says deployment of NATO shield in Turkey ‘inefficient’,” ISNA, September 22, 2011, available at: http://www.isna.ir/ISNA/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-1853212&Lang=E

[4] Yeganeh Torbati, “Iran tests short0range missile with new guidance system,” Reuters, August 4, 2012.

[5] Umit Enginsoy, “Confident Turkey plans to raise arms expenses to historic high,” Hurriyet Daily News, August 8, 2011, available at: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=confident-turkey-plans-to-raise-arms-expenses-to-historic-high-2011-08-08

[6] See articles in Turkish on Turkish Armed Forces’ defense systems manufacturer ASELSAN’s national defense missile deal: Bugun Newspaper, June 22, 2011, available at: http://www.bugun.com.tr/haber-detay/159882-aselsan-dan-dev-milli-fuze-adimi-haberi.aspx and Sabah Newspaper, June 21, 2011, available at: http://www.sabah.com.tr/Ekonomi/2011/06/21/milli-fuze-uretecegiz

[7] “Turkish Air Defense System Alternatives,” in Turkish, CNNTurk, September 18, 2009, available at http://www.cnnturk.com/2009/turkiye/09/18/turkiyenin.hava.savunma.sistemi.alternatifleri/544072.0/index.html

[8] Piotr Zalewski, “Missile Defense: A View from Turkey,” Foreign Security Policy, Center for European Policy Studies Commentaries, October 8, 2009, available at: http://www.ceps.eu/book/missile-defence-view-turkey

[9] “Defense giants compete in Turkish tender for long-range missiles,” Today’s Zaman, January 2, 2011, available at http://www.todayszaman.com/news-231336-defense-giants-compete-in-turkish-tender-for-long-range-missiles.html

[10] Umit Enginsoy, “NATO warns Turkey against buying Chinese, Russian air defense systems,” Hurriyet Daily News, July 25, 2011, available at: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=nato-warns-turkey-against-buying-chinese-russian-air-defense-systems-2011-07-25

[11] Giray Sadik, “Turkey Considers Several Missile Defense Systems,” Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 87, May 7, 2008, at: http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=33615

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