ANKARA — A Turkish move to deploy NATO’s Patriot ground-to-air missiles on its southern border with Syria has antagonized regional rivals Iran and Russia. And defense industry sources say it could obviate the need for the country’s $4 billion competition to build its own anti-missile and air defense architecture.
Turkey officially has asked NATO to deploy Raytheon’s Patriot missile launchers and Lockheed Martin’s Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles, saying that neighboring Syria’s civil war threatens its security.
Military officials from Germany and the Netherlands, owners of the NATO systems, are conducting site surveys to determine possible deployment locations. NATO’s top official, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has pledged to finish the deal soon.
The request is creating tension in the region. Turkey’s former ally, Syria, and its allies Iran and Russia condemned the move.
The relationship between Turkey and Syria has gone from bad to worse since the uprising to oust Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, began almost two years ago. Damascus has long accused Ankara of harboring, financing and arming rebels fighting to oust Assad. Russia agrees with Syria and is warning that the surface-to-air missiles could lead to a regional crisis.
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said: “Any buildup of weapons creates threats and risks. Any provocation can cause a very serious armed conflict. We would like to avoid it by all means. We are perfectly aware of Turkey’s concern over the security on its border.”
Rasmussen sought to reassure Moscow that Turkey’s decision is purely to protect its own territory.
“The Turkish government stressed that the deployment will be defensive only, and that it will in no way support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation,” he said. “The security of the alliance is indivisible. NATO is fully committed to deterring against any threats and defending Turkey’s territorial integrity.”
“Turkey has its own reasons to have the systems on its soil. These reasons are political, security-related and also financial,” said Ceyhun Erguven, an analyst based here. “It is normal that a member country requests logistical assistance from NATO because it feels threatened.”
The move could nullify Turkey’s own program to build long-range anti-missile and air defense systems on its soil, industry sources said.
For the estimated $4 billion contract, the pan-European company Eurosam, maker of the Surface-to-Air Missile Platform/Terrain Aster 30 system, is competing with a Raytheon-Lockheed partnership marketing Patriots; Russia’s Rosoboronexport, marketing the S-300 system; and China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corp., offering its HQ-9.
Turkey’s top decision-making body on defense, the Defense Industry Executive Committee, had its most recent meeting in July and said that talks would continue with four key foreign suppliers. The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for late December or early January.
Turkey has no long-range air defense systems. All of the candidate systems, in theory, are capable of hitting an incoming aircraft or missile.
Many Western officials and experts say the Russian and Chinese systems in the Turkish competition are not compatible with NATO systems. The fear is that either country’s potential victory could inadvertently provide it with access to classified NATO information, and as a result, may compromise NATO’s procedures.
Despite this criticism, Turkey so far has resisted dropping the Chinese and Russian options.
Analysts say the deployment of NATO assets on Turkish soil may add to doubts that Turkey needs to independently build an air defense system and spend a huge amount of money.
“The arrival of the Patriot systems, if endorsed by NATO, would already meet Turkey’s requirement of a solid air defense system,” Erguven said. “This may even lead to the cancellation of Turkey’s own contract for a similar system.”
A procurement official familiar with the program said the matter would be thoroughly discussed, with a final decision made at the next meeting of the Defense Industry Executive Committee.
Industry sources say even if Turkey proceeds with its national air defense system contract, procurement officials might feel obliged to shortlist the U.S. and European contenders and drop the Russians and Chinese.
“Turkey and Russia are becoming increasingly hostile as each sides with warring camps in the Syrian crisis,” one senior industry source said. “This minimizes Rosoboronexport’s chances in the contract.
“China also quietly allies with Russia over the Syria war, and its solution for Turkish air defenses is an almost replica of the Russian system. That may oust the Chinese bid from the race, too.”