Making Sense of Turkey’s Air and Missile Defense Merry Go-Round
(Source: All Azimuth; published Feb. 01, 2019)

By Sıtkı Egeli, Assistant Professor at the Izmir University of Economics
At some point during 2013, Turkey’s political authority began to treat the in-country development and production of long-range air and missile defense systems as a priority.

Soon after, they announced their decision to favor a Chinese offer that came complete with licensed production and the promise of technology transfer. Yet, with this decision came NATO’s objections and challenges around integration and information security.

The 2015 decision to roll-back the pro-China decision, and opt instead for the indigenous development of air and missile defense systems (in close conjunction with a foreign technological and industrial partner) was triggered by Turkey’s disillusion with the content of China’s technology transfer package. Subsequently, this new partner became a team comprising France and Italy; Turkish industry tied itself to this team in developing Europe’s next-generation missile defense capability.

Then came the Turkish government’s 2017 decision to purchase off-the-shelf, standalone S-400 systems from Russia. This decision was an anomaly, and had all the characteristics of a top-down decision cycle running afoul of technical, operational, and industrial criteria.

Turkey’s political figures have justified the S-400 order by citing the benefits of in-country production, access to technologies, not to mention the West’s refusal to sell comparable systems; but these justifications have been refuted by the Russian side and/or in discordant statements by Turkish institutions, authorities, and political figures themselves.

1. Prologue

Turkey’s 2013 preference to have a Chinese supplier to meet its pressing air and missile defense needs, followed by Ankara’s more recent order for Russia’s S-400 systems, brought about a rush of analyses and commentaries – both scholarly and otherwise. The majority dwells upon the political and strategic ramifications with respect to Turkey’s defense and security ties with Russia, NATO, the U.S., and the West at large.

A few sought to identify and elaborate on the technical, technological, and operational aspects, as well as the consequences of Ankara’s consecutive decisions to acquire air and missile defense systems from non-Western suppliers.

Systematic and scholarly attempts to scrutinize Turkey’s actions within the context of a historical continuum (by paying tribute to organizational, industrial, and long-term policy objectives) are even less common.

Through this article, we seek to fill this gap by analyzing, in consummate detail, Turkey’s efforts and initiatives to meet its air and missile defense requirements over the last three decades.

We attempt to reveal the dynamics and outcomes of the complex interplay between technical, technological, operational, organizational, and defense industrial factors and considerations underlying Turkey’s air and missile defense endeavor.

This enables us to judge whether the disparate, seemingly contradictory, and at times perplexing decisions made in Ankara fit into a larger and predictable pattern, or whether they stand out as anomalies and improbable exceptions.


Click here for the full story (23 PDF pages) on the All Azimuth website.

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