Turkey eyes advanced missile and space technologies
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently underlined the importance of the country developing its own missile and space technologies
Amid rising regional instabilities and possible security challenges from Turkey’s neighbors, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu underlined in a recent speech the importance of the country developing its own missile and space technologies.
“Geographies are the fates of countries. It’s necessary to be powerful in order to survive on these lands. These lands are valuable as gold,” Davutoglu said.
He underlined the importance of developing Turkey’s domestic defense capacity in parallel with its capacity of being the second-largest deployable military force within NATO.
Davutoglu added that the Space Agency Bill is expected to be submitted to parliament soon.
These remarks come amid concerns from NATO allies about the likelihood of Turkey finalizing a deal with China - competing with European and American companies - for the purchase of a $3.4 billion long-range ground-to-air missile defense system along with the technology transfer.
The focal point of the heavy pressure from Western allies on Turkey is the risk that may arise from the integration of Chinese systems into the NATO defense shield. The final decision will be made not before the second half of this year.
Turkey has already taken steps toward building its own missile technology since the 1990s.
Its SOM-J air-launched cruise missile technology, and the Cirit laser-guided rocket system to equip Turkish attack helicopters, are manufactured and developed domestically.
Ankara has increased the budgets of the Defense Ministry and of the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry for 2015 by 2.5 billion Turkish lira ($958 million) compared to the previous year, representing about 11 percent of the country’s total budget.
Confirming the urgency of improving its defense technologies against threats from war-torn neighbor Syria, the Turkish military fired shells at a Syrian artillery unit near the border on March 25 after a Syrian rocket landed 200 meters away from a Turkish military base, wounding five Turkish civilians and damaging the base.
However, Professor Mustafa Kibaroglu, the chair of the department of political science and international relations at MEF University in Istanbul, said Turkey is far less advanced than it should be in terms of building the necessary scientific and technological capabilities.
“But it’s never too late to embark on a large-scale, comprehensive program for the acquisition and development of elaborate air-defense systems that would enhance the security of the country in the decades ahead,” Kibaroglu told Al Arabiya News.
He said Turkey needs such capabilities as soon as possible, especially in the face of recent regional developments, particularly in neighboring Syria and Iraq.
Since the beginning of 2013, Turkey is protected by NATO’s Patriot missile defense system against possible attacks across its 900-kilometer border with Syria.
However, the last missile from Syria was missed by this system, sparking debate about its effectiveness.
“This is an indication of the existence of a grave deficiency in terms of the reliability and effectiveness of the NATO air-defense capabilities that have been allocated to Turkey’s defense. Had the missile hit an inhabited area, the results could’ve been catastrophic,” Kibaroglu said.
“Turkey has spent some $6 billion for Syrian refugees over the last three years. Turkey is more capable than ever of spending large sums of money on advanced defense projects, provided that our allies agree to share the technology and the joint manufacture of the systems in Turkey.”
However, Halit Mustafa Tagma, chairman of the international relations department at Ankara's Ipek University, said starting a project from scratch in the short to medium term is neither technologically nor financially feasible.
“Given Turkish priorities, an ideal investment would share the burden and entail joint production, transfer of technology, and the possibility of future exports,” Tagma told Al Arabiya News.
Tagma said given their price tag, utility and performance, Western systems are a cause of concern and reservation in Ankara, while some say Turkey should focus on deterrent capabilities rather than expensive defensive capabilities.
“The trending viewpoint in the capital isn’t to regard the Chinese system as an alternative to Western systems, but to complement Turkey’s own priorities,” Tagma said.
“Such diversification, it’s argued, would create a separate national capability for Turkey to protect and police its own airspace. Such a capability will give Turkey the ability to identify friends and foes based on national priorities and perceptions.”