News / USA

US to Send Patriot Missile Batteries to Turkey

A U.S. soldier stands next to a Patriot surface-to-air missile battery at an army base in Morag, Poland. (File)
A U.S. soldier stands next to a Patriot surface-to-air missile battery at an army base in Morag, Poland. (File)
NATO preparations to help shield Turkish territory from potential Syrian aerial attacks gained new backing Friday as the U.S. announced it is sending two batteries of defensive Patriot missiles to Turkey.

The Patriot System

  • Stands for "Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept on Target"
  • Surface-to-air interceptor system developed by U.S. defense contractor Raytheon
  • Deployed in Israel and Saudi Arabia in 1991 to defend against Iraqi Scud missile threat
  • Capable of engaging multiple aircraft and missile targets simultaneously
During a visit to a U.S. base in Turkey, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he is ordering the missiles and 400 military personnel be sent to Turkey. The Patriot missile units will be sent from Germany and the Netherlands.  

"We are deploying two Patriot batteries here to Turkey, along with the troops that are necessary to man those batteries, so that we can help Turkey have the kind of missile defense it may very well need in dealing with threats that come out of Syria," Panetta told American troops at Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey.

The German parliament approved the missiles' transfer by a wide majority on Friday, and NATO welcomed the U.S. announcement.

The missiles will be under NATO's control. They are scheduled to be operational by late January.

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The action comes after reports this week that Damascus began using missiles against Syrian rebels across the Turkish border.

U.S. officials say Syrian troops fired Scud missiles at opposition forces Wednesday - their first use of those weapons in recent days, and an escalation of President Bashar al-Assad's fight against a 21-month rebellion. Syria denied Thursday that it had fired any Scuds.

Hopwever, Turkey has long feared that an increasingly desperate Assad government may resort to striking Turkish targets with its Russian-designed missiles and warplanes, in retaliation for Ankara's hosting and support of Syrian rebels and refugees.

IHS Jane's analyst Ben Goodlad says Syria has about 550 Scud missiles with a range of up to 800 kilometers.

Turkey won approval from other members of the NATO alliance last week for deployment of the U.S.-made Patriot missiles to its southeastern region. The Patriot is a ground-based defense system that fires missiles to intercept airborne threats, either from aircraft or ballistic missiles.

NATO preparations

Speaking by telephone from Brussels, a NATO official said the alliance expects the three nations to start shipping the large and heavy missiles to Turkey quickly. He said the costs of transporting and operating the Patriot systems will be borne by contributing governments, a typical practice in NATO missions. The Dutch government has estimated the cost of its two-battery mission in Turkey at $55 million for one year.

The NATO official said Turkey will cover "host nation" expenses such as electricity, accommodation and food for the hundreds of foreign troops needed to run the batteries.

Turkish and NATO officials have been in talks to finalize the locations of the Patriot units. A NATO survey team visited southeastern Turkey late last month and early this month to scout possible sites, including key population centers and civilian and military installations.

Strategic positions

The NATO team visited Adana's Sakirpasa civilian airport and Incirlik NATO air force base, Iskenderun's commercial port, naval and army bases, a radar site at Kisecik village near Antakya, and air bases in Malatya and Diyarbakir.

Ben Goodlad said he expects at least one Patriot unit to be deployed around Diyarbakir, a major city in southern Syria about 100 kilometers from the Syrian border.

Patriot interceptors can hit incoming missiles up to 20 kilometers from a launching station. Goodlad said that means the launchers need to be relatively close to population centers to protect them from missile attacks.

He said the interceptors also can target hostile aircraft as far as 160 kilometers away, enabling a Diyarbakir-based battery to shield much of Turkey's border region from possible Syrian air strikes.

Border sensitivities

For those reasons, Goodlad said there is little need to deploy Patriot units right along Turkey's more sparsely populated border with Syria. Russia, a longtime Assad ally, has expressed concern that positioning the interceptors on the border could threaten Syria and exacerbate the situation.

"NATO is keen not to position its batteries on the border itself in order to maintain a defensive posture, rather than being viewed as an aggressive move toward Syria," Goodlad said.

The NATO official said the alliance expects that any intercepts of Syrian ballistic missiles would occur over Turkish territory.

"But the precise intercept location depends on many factors, including when the attacking missile is detected, and where the closest Patriot battery is," he noted.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

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Comment Sorting
by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
December 15, 2012 7:49 PM
The sit in Syria, especially near the Israel/Jordan bordering areas is very fluid. As the oposition expands its hold on the border areas, the potential increases, that, Asad's forces will target them. Both Israel and, even more so, Jordan need to get on the ground capabilities to deal with scud missiles and Bio/Chem weapons. Essentially, if Assad's regime resorts to using Bio or Chem weapons in one front, once that threshold is crossed, then surely one will see a very broad application of such weapons. Since Homs was the area whose people started the fight for freedom, the area is at greater risk. In my view, Jordan/Israel need to be proactively protected, not just Turkey. Anti -missile defences, Patriot/ Bio-Chem specialist/equipment needs to be deployed to Jordan for sure; and to Israel if it is requested. If an attack occurs, the specialists.... need to be ready and close by to help the civilian victims.....

by: Clevelander from: Ohio
December 14, 2012 12:33 PM
We should not provide arms to a terror-sponsoring county like Turkey. They murder the curds and support terrorists like Hamas. Don't let them get their hands on weapons they can sell to those who attack us.
In Response

by: Dr Kranknstein from: US
December 15, 2012 9:14 PM
WHAT?...First off Turkey will not be in control of the batteries. German, Dutch and American troops will crew and protect their systems. Second we are treaty bound to protect Turkish territory under NATO. Now trust me I am no fan of Turkey's current administration and personally think Erdogan is little better than Ahmadinejad. However when an ally calls they should always be able to count on the US to answer.

by: Zack Shoemaker from: Eugene, Oregon
December 14, 2012 12:08 PM
Why is it always our money thrown at helping structure the middle-east, do we really plan on needing foreign oil forever? It's always lead by our dictator-like global policies, our soldiers put in harm's way, and our money wasted. Can we not mind our business long enough to handle our own business, or at least wait until the rest of the world takes the lead, on anything?
In Response

by: Zack Shoemaker
December 14, 2012 3:07 PM
Turkey is our ally, just like Pakistan was when we ignored them an assassinated someone in their yard, and through away the evidence. Their our ally alright, just like the dictator of Egypt was, which is why we just watched that.
In Response

by: Thomas from: Chicago
December 14, 2012 12:53 PM
Turkey is a NATO ally, under threat from neighboring Syria. This is not "helping structure the middle-east", but honoring the decades-old alliance and protecting US interests in general. Oil is not involved here, and there is no invasion happening.

by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
December 14, 2012 8:38 AM
Sending missile defenses to Turkey is a good move, but it needs to be accelerated. The highest risk window is approaching/exists now, given that reports of scud firings have already occured. Even after the regime of Assad falls, these defenses will have to remain, until such time as all the large missiles and all the chem/bio weapons are secured/destroyed. A clear agreement needs to be in place with the opposition, to ensure the weapons will be secured, accounted for, and destroyed. The potential risk will continue to exist, that some group may use the weapons, until the weapons, chem/bio/missiles are destroyed and Syria is stabilized.

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