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Ankara scraps Chinese air defense deal

November 18, 2015

Turkey had alarmed its NATO allies by awarding a tender to a blacklisted Chinese company to develop its air defense system. Ankara now says it will develop its own air defense system.

Symbolbild China Luftabwehrsystem FD-2000
Image: Reuters

Turkey's defense ministry said on Wednesday that it had canceled the $3.4 billion (3.19 billion-euro) tender with a Chinese company to develop a long-range missile defense system to defend its airspace against warplanes and missile attack.

NATO had become alarmed by Ankara's 2013 announcement that it had awarded the tender to the state-owned China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp, a company that's the target of US sanctions for allegedly aiding North Korea and Iran.

The Chinese missile system was not only cheaper than US and European counterparts but Beijing had apparently held out the promise of more technology transfers which would allow Turkey to operate the system independently and eventually replicate it.

But the promised technology transfers apparently didn't go far enough to satisfy Ankara.

"They refused to give what we demanded," an unnamed official from the prime minister's office told the AFP news agency without elaborating on the demands. "One of the main reasons is that we will launch our own national missile project."

That was confirmed by the defense ministry's procurement committee which said it intends to develop its own system from scratch.

"The committee decided to cancel the existing project and focus on work to develop our long-range air and missile defense system with domestic resources," the ministry said in a statement.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that the two countries were still talking.

"The relevant issue will be handled by the two sides' relevant departments and companies through consultations," he told reporters on Wednesday.

A German deployment of Patriot missiles.
Germany's Bundeswehr withdrew its Patriot air defense missile battery from Turkey this summer. Turkey is increasingly worried about threats of warplanes over Syria.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

Turkey lacks own modern air defense system

Questions had also arisen over the feasibility of Turkey operating a Chinese system. NATO would not allow a Chinese system to be integrated into its radar defense system because of the vulnerability to hacking.

So any Chinese system would have lacked the eyes of Turkey's regional air defense radar arrays.

It's unclear whether Turkey has the capability of developing an indigenous system. Ankara has made developing its defense industry a strategic priority in an attempt to lessen its dependence on its NATO partners. Turkey has already developed a prototype battle tank though it has yet to be deployed.

Turkey has become increasingly alarmed by threat of air attack from Syria's air force and land-based missile system. This summer both Germany and the United States withdrew Patriot missile batteries near the Turkey-Syria frontier but said they could be redeployed on short notice if necessary.

jar/msh (Reuters, AFP)