Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Turkey to Take Decisions Regarding ABM, F-35 and Transport Helicopter in 2010

Turkey is set to make crucial defense decisions in 2010 as the US offer to join a missile shield program and multibillion-dollar contracts are looming over the country's agenda. If a joint NATO missile shield is developed, such a move may force Ankara to join the mechanism despite the possible Iranian reaction, analysts say Turkey is preparing for critical decisions next year on joining a U.S.-led air defense program to counter ballistic missile threats from rogue states and issuing multibillion dollar contracts to meet its military's next-generation fighter aircraft and utility helicopter requirements.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has invited Ankara to join a Western missile shield system to protect the Middle East and Eastern Europe from potential Iranian ground-to-ground missile strikes."We discussed the continuing role that we can play as NATO allies in strengthening Turkey's profile within NATO and coordinating more effectively on critical issues like missile defense," Obama told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan at the White House on Dec. 7.

U.S. officials are also urging Turkey to choose the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) against Russian and Chinese rivals competing for a Turkish contract for the purchase of high-altitude and long-range antimissile defense systems. The White House said in September, under the latest intelligence assessments, the threat from Iran's short- and medium-range was developing more rapidly than previously projected and in the near-term, the greatest missile threats from Iran would be to U.S. allies and partners, as well as to U.S. personnel in the Middle East and Europe. Accordingly, a plan developed during former President George W. Bush's term to deploy radars and interceptors in the Czech Republic and Poland to hit Iran's potential long-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles was abandoned.

Instead, a new plan calls for the creation of a regional system in southeastern Europe, the Mediterranean and part of the Middle East. In phase one of the new Obama plan, the U.S. will deploy SM-3 interceptor missiles and radar surveillance systems on sea-based Aegis weapons systems by 2011. In phase two and by 2015, a more capable version of the SM-3 interceptor and more advanced sensors will be used in both sea-and land-based configurations. In later phases three and four, intercepting and detecting capabilities further will be developed.

Turkish dilemma on Iran

Defense analysts said if Turkey decides to join a U.S. or NATO-led collective missile defense structure, radars or even interceptors may be deployed to its territory, which borders Iran. Turkish officials say they will consider the U.S. proposal. Presently U.S. and NATO officials are working to integrate their missile defense concepts.Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoðlu has hinted his government does not view Tehran as a potential missile threat for Turkey at this point. But analysts say if a joint NATO missile shield is developed, such a move could force Ankara to join the mechanism.

In a partly related matter, for Turkey's program to buy antimissile defense systems for the protection of critical targets, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are offering their PAC-3. Russia is proposing S400s, a more modern version of the S300, marketed by Rosoboronexport; and China is offering its HQ-9 systems made by China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp., or CPMIEC.

U.S. officials say the PAC-3's compatibility with all NATO systems would be a great advantage for Turkey. The Russian and Chinese options lack that capability. Turkey's Air Force exclusively has NATO weapons.Talks on the three options are continuing, and Turkey is expected to choose a winner in 2010. Turkish procurement officials say the first phase of the program is expected to cost between $1 and $2 billion.Next year, the United States also needs to decide whether or not to sell MQ-9 Reaper armed unmanned aerial vehicles to Turkey. The U.S. military extensively uses this armed drone against Taliban targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Fighters, copters and others

As part of the Turkish Air Force's strategic modernization plan to bolster its combat capabilities, Turkey already has selected the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II as its next-generation fighter aircraft.Ankara presently plans to buy 100 platforms worth around $11 billion, but procurement officials say the number may rise to 120. Turkish defense companies are taking part in the U.S.-led multinational program for the F-35's development and production, and deliveries to Turkey are expected to begin around 2015.

Next year, Turkey will need to decide on the exact number of aircraft it will buy, and remain committed to that goal throughout the 15-year program. Also in early 2010, Turkey is expected to select a helicopter type to become the military's main utility transport helicopter platform over the next 15 years.The U.S. Sikorsky Aircraft and the Italian-British AgustaWestland are vying for this multibillion-dollar contract under which hundreds of military and civilian utility helicopters should be jointly produced.

In 2009's largest defense contract for Turkey, Ankara signed in July a nearly 1.9 billion euro deal with Germany's HDW shipyards for the production of six modern diesel submarines for the Navy.In September, the first test flight of the T129, the Turkish Army's new attack helicopter, took place successfully in Italy. At least 50 helicopter gunships will be co-produced with AgustaWestland under a contract worth around $2.7 billion.


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