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Allure of Domestic Arms Drives Turkey Toward Russian Missiles


FILE - Russian S-400 air defense missile systems are on display during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, May 7, 2017.

Turkey’s strategic goal of developing a domestic arms industry is a driving force behind its intention to buy Russia’s S-400 missile system, with Moscow including technology transfer as part of the deal. The technology transfer offer, analysts say, is impeding Washington's effort to persuade Ankara to buy the U.S. Patriot missile system instead.

Turkey’s NATO partners are warning Ankara its defense systems could be compromised if S-400 missiles are deployed.

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and a senior presidential advisor, speaking anonymously, both insist the multi-billion-dollar S-400 purchase would go ahead. Although Cavusoglu suggested Ankara could also purchase the Patriot system.

FILE - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu arrive for a NATO summit in Brussels, May 25, 2017.
FILE - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu arrive for a NATO summit in Brussels, May 25, 2017.

Some observers say Ankara’s decision to turn to Moscow for arms is a result of Turkey’s allies failing to share their technology.

“Russian provides the best option,” said International Relations Professor Huseyin Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technology University.

“If Western countries, NATO countries, would provide technology transfer, then Turkey would have bought from them. The strategic choice of Turkey does not only want to buy but to sell arms. The question here is not buying off the shelf but producing together. Why doesn’t the American share their technology? Some European countries, like Britain, are making good steps in this direction.”

Ankara cites Washington's reluctance to allow technology sharing and co-production for the breakdown of earlier talks to purchase the Patriot System. The collapse of those talks saw Ankara first considering a Chinese system and then ultimately favoring the S-400.

In the latest U.S. diplomatic effort to stop the S-400 purchase, Assistant Secretary of Defense Kevin Fahey told reporters this week Washington could be more flexible. "Turkey has had an interest in Patriot, so we've been working for a while on how we can make that work," he said.

However, analysts say Ankara is aware any Patriot missile deal would have to be signed off by Congress, which is increasingly taking an assertive stance toward Turkey. U.S. lawmakers are already threatening to block the delivery of American F-35 fighter jets. In the past, many Turkish arms deals have been stopped or delayed by Congress.

FILE - An F-35 arrives at it new operational base, Sept. 2, 2015, at Hill Air Force Base, in northern Utah.
FILE - An F-35 arrives at it new operational base, Sept. 2, 2015, at Hill Air Force Base, in northern Utah.

Political analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners points out the questionable reliability of Turkey’s Western allies in supplying arms is the impetus for Ankara to expand its own armament industry. “Any foreign partner who supplies weapons and has any qualms at the way we fight could withhold new ammunition or new weapons, and this kind of blackmail or veto Turkey cannot afford, no country can afford this. That's why domestication of the defense industry is a good thing.” Yesilada said.

Turkey’s recent military operations against Kurdish insurgents in neighboring Syria and Iraq were a showcase for Turkish-produced weapons. “Almost all of the armored carriers operating in Afrin (Syria) are domestically produced. I thank our friends who produced them,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in February. Turkish-produced armed drones also now play a key role in Turkish military activity.

The Turkish operations also provide a boost to overseas sales. “Turkey has been trying to become an important player in arms export in the region,” military analyst Metin Gurcan said. “Turkey is becoming a new exporter that can provide much more effective, efficient, low-cost battle-tested, and lets say less problematic solutions to exports.”

This week Turkey confirmed the sale of 30 attack helicopters and four corvette warships to Pakistan.

A Western diplomat speaking anonymously said concerns over whom Ankara would share technology that it secured from its allies is a likely factor behind the reluctance to include technology transfer in arms deals.

A deal between Ankara and British engine-maker Rolls Royce to develop a fighter jet has reportedly run into complications over shared technology.

However, high-end technology transfer is critical a goal for Ankara in developing its arms industry.

“Turkey does not have the high technology; Turkey is still in need of technology for jet engines and engines of tanks. Turkey intends to have a much bigger and sophisticated defense sector,” professor Bagci said.

“Not only the Russians but also the Chinese are offering technology transfer. It's up to the Americans and other NATO countries whether they can trust Turkey or not. After all, NATO is based on trust.”

Moscow too has limits on sharing technology with Ankara. Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly politely rejected overtures by Erdogan to upgrade Turkey’s S-400 purchase to Russia’s latest S-500 system. But analysts suggest Moscow will continue to offer just enough technology to exploit the West's reluctance to share its technology with its Turkish ally.

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