[email protected]

January 28, 2013, Monday

In a radical move, Turkey opts for co-development of long-range missiles

Despite high expectations, Turkey did not pick a winner in its six-year long-range air and missile defense systems (T-Loramids) project during a meeting on Jan. 3, held by the country's top decision making body on weapons procurement, headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Instead, Erdoğan used his influence in a decision for the co-development of the missiles in cooperation with one of the bidding companies in the T-Loramids program. I have to say that a decision to co-develop the missiles is a very aggressive policy, taking into consideration Turkey's existing relatively weak defense industry base. However, it does not mean that Turkey cannot co-develop a long-range missile in the long term and that the most important factor is to start somewhere instead of taking no action to this end.

Some critics have long been criticizing Turkey's plan to buy 12 long-range missile systems off the shelf at a cost of around $4 billion. Instead, those critics were urging Ankara to abandon the project on the grounds that it is expensive and that whenever Turkey needs such systems NATO -- of which it is a member -- has in all previous situations lent Turkey Patriot surface-to-air missile systems. This was the case lately when NATO began deploying Patriot missiles on Turkish soil to defend Turkey's territory against a possible anti-ballistic missile attack that may come from neighboring Syria, where the civil war has been continuing for almost two years now.

Hence, NATO has come to Turkey's assistance in bolstering the Turkish air defense against possible threats. However, some -- including many Turkish officers, distrust the alliance and have thus been advocating that Turkey acquire its own long-range missile systems.

The critical question that should be posed at this stage is: Who decides on the matters of Turkish weapons purchases? There is no parliamentary commission that is elaborating in depth over whether Turkey needs costly defense systems, for example, while it is unknown even to legislators what Turkey perceives as threats in order for it to buy the relevant weapons.

In the absence of an oversight on Turkish policies regarding the purchasing of weapons in particular and Turkish defense expenditures in general, neither by the parliament nor by the Court of Accounts, it becomes difficult to know exactly what kind of weapons Turkey needs and whether some of the weapons being purchased are really necessary or are being purchased arbitrarily resulting in the waste of our liras.

The lack of an oversight on Turkish weapons acquisition policies is as an important problem in meeting the transparency and good governance standards required in democracies.

In the meantime, however, the current government policies to strengthen the Turkish defense industry base have helped the domestic production of some of the weapons systems. This industry, for a long time, has been unable to produce even some nonessential technologies, thus being reliant on industries abroad for around 85 percent of their defense systems.

Turkey has now set a target of producing critical military technologies locally. Nevertheless, the financial resources earmarked for Research and Development (R&D) projects are a drop in the ocean to meet this ambitious goal. For example, $600 million is earmarked for R&D projects mainly in defense for the fiscal year 2013, which is not adequate enough to produce critical technologies. Adding to the problem is the current Turkish government's exaggerated approach and overconfidence as if Turkey has turned its defense industry base into a strong one to produce even critical technologies without foreign help.

For example, in the production of the Göktürk 2 satellite, Turkish decision makers claimed that it was 80 percent locally manufactured. The public was thus being deceived since considerable technical support was received from foreign suppliers in the production of this satellite which was put into orbit lately from China.

When the public is misled about Turkey's real strength in the defense industry, for example, they later become disillusioned and begin to inquire about the reasons behind the significant amount of resources allocated to the military yet Turkey does not have a strong defense industry base.

Now that Turkey has not picked a winner in its six-year missile acquisition project, the question is whether Ankara will be able to produce the long-range missiles that few nations have so far manufactured.

Turkey appears to have a strong will and the determination to co-develop long-range missiles. This will not only assist the creation of a stronger defense industry base in the long run but will also turn the lucrative weapons business into an asset for the economy instead of being a burden due to the earlier frequent direct purchases of weapons from abroad. Still, the problem of knowing which arms to buy in a transparent fashion has to be addressed.

Previous articles of the columnist