An Alternative Vendor for Turkey’s Missile Defense: Eurosam’s SAMP/T

Eurosam’s SAMP/T offer provided a wide range of opportunities compared to other bidders from the U.S., Russia and China. However, one must take into account that arms trade creates a long-term technical, military and political engagement, as well as a strategic cooperation between customers and their suppliers.

An Alternative Vendor for Turkey s Missile Defense Eurosam s
Photo: Eurosam

When Turkey decided to call for a tender in 2006 and issued the Request for Proposal (RfP) entitled Turkish-Long Range Air and Missile Defense System (T-LORAMIDS) in 2010, four bidders/suppliers from different countries entered the bidding and submitted their offers. The first two bidders of the T-LORAMIDS tender were the “great power blocs” of the Cold War Order and still the world’s first and second largest arms exporter countries, the U.S. and Russia.  In the tender, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin partnership from the U.S. offered Patriot systems’ upgraded versions “Patriot Advanced Capability-2” (PAC-2) and “Patriot Advanced Capability-3” (PAC-3) while Russia’s single state intermediary agency for exports or imports of defense-related products, Rosoboronexport participated in the bidding with “Antey-2500”, upgraded version of the “Almaz S-300VM” missile defense system. The other supplier parties represented in the bid were China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CPMIEC) which submitted an offer for its “HQ-9” series of the “FD-2000” system and Italian-French consortium “Eurosam” offering the “SAMP/T” system that uses Aster 30 Block 1 missiles.

According to the statement following Defense Industry Executive Committee’s (DIEC) meeting on September 26, 2013, China’s state-run CPMIEC ranked first as the winning bidder. In fact, this ranking did not mean the Chinese FD-2000 system beat the Patriot, Antey-2500 and SAMP-T with its technological superiority. On the other hand, the Chinese bid was found much more beneficial with regards to the technical point/FOM ranking and its advantageous offers to meet Turkey’s add-on procurement criteria such as domestic work-packages, co-production, delivery timeframe, price and some level of technology transfer.  At that time, Turkey’s NATO allies reacted with harsh criticism to DIEC’s decision to award the contract to CPMIEC firm which has been under U.S. sanctions because of violating the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act. Additionally, NATO allies expressed Chinese military technology would be highly risky for NATO systems that cannot be compatible with NATO's other weapons and networks.

In consequence of this reaction, Ankara requested bidders renew their offers until 2014. Yet suppliers from NATO countries did not really change their offers to meet Ankara’s additional tender demands, mainly technology transfer. In November 2015, Ankara declared that T-LORAMIDS tender was cancelled (but the project was not suspended) during G20 Summit taken place in Turkey’s Antalya. Interestingly, NATO allies the U.S., Germany and Netherlands later withdrew their Patriot systems from Turkey which had been deployed in Adana, Kahramanmaraş and Gaziantep. This withdrawal occurred at a time when Turkey’s threat and risk perception had been widely increasing due to the challenges stemmed from both state and non-state armed actors’, such as the U.S.’ political and military support to PYD/YPG, or the rocket attacks fired by launchers mounted on mobile platforms from ISIS-controlled areas in Syria. This situation prompted Ankara to search for alternative ways to strengthen its defense capabilities and stop trusting protection by NATO’s security umbrella.  Ankara’s feeling of isolation regarding concerns about security vulnerabilities in the region paved the way for procuring strategic weapon systems from big vendors outside NATO’s defense market. 

On the other side, on 14th June 2016, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg pointed out NATO’s decision to employ different kinds of assurance measures (i.e. Italian deployment of SAMP/T, AWACS surveillance planes, air policing, an increased naval presence in the Mediterranean and in the Black Sea) in the package of assurance measures for Turkey in order to support its military and defense capabilities. Turkey might have regarded this as a positive steps by Allies to strengthen Turkish sovereignty and defence. However, Ankara’s disappointment and lack of confidence in NATO was gradually deepened in many respects in the aftermath of the  July 15 coup attempt (extradition request of Fetullah Gulen and other terrorists who escaped to other allied countries such as France and Germany), withdrawal of Patriot systems from Turkey, support to terrorist group PKK/PYD, and political and military differentiations on the Syria issue.

Therefore, even if Spain’s Patriot to Adana and Italian deployment of SAMP/T to Kahramanmaraş might be counted as assurance measures for Turkey, Ankara’s feeling of insecurity would not be solved by temporary steps.

While the tense relationship between the U.S. and Turkey was becoming more unreliable, Moscow’s moderate attitude toward Turkey grabbed attention after Turkish Air Forces’ F-16 fighter jets the shot down a Russian Su-24M bomber aircraft near the Syrian border on 24 November 2015. Short after the dialogue process started between Ankara and Moscow, in October 2016, Russians came up with a S-400 offer to provide their best technology to strengthen Turkeys air and missile defense capability. The negotiation process in the procurement of S-400s went through different stages and levels such as deciding whether to employ offset rules or political, military, technical and economic aspects like compatibility, price, delivery time, quantity, technological performance, location, set up and deployment facilities. As a result, Turkey and Russia agreed on the procurement of S-400s with a cost of $2.5 billion with S-400 training already beginning and the first shipment arriving in Turkey on July 2019.

Until now, the majority of news and articles published in domestic and foreign media focused on Turkey’s purchasing dilemma between two suppliers, U.S. Patriots and Russian S-400s.  The decision to award the contract to CPMIEC, also created big disputes between NATO allies and Turkey. While Ankara was trying to find out ways to compromise with missile system vendors, Eurosam's offer in the tender did not receive enough attention. However, Eurosam did have far more advantageous offers than the other bidders in the T-LORAMIDS tender. These offers can be explained under three areas: political, economic and technological and technical aspects.

First, looking at the governmental level, Turkey’s choice to procure SAMP/T would not cause a detriment to the U.S. and Turkey’s political relationship. Since Italy and France are not adversaries but rather allies of the U.S. Thus vital American interests and political power would not be threatened. Therefore, U.S Congress would not find a reason to punish Ankara because of its decision to purchase a missile defense system from other NATO arms exporters. On the other hand, “buying weapons” means “buying the friendship of the supplier”. In this respect, Turkey’s defense cooperation with France would probably create some impacts on the two countries’ foreign policies. However, it should be kept in mind that Turkey has long been disturbed by the foreign policy decisions pursued by France such as its support to legitimize the allegations of a “so-called” Armenian genocide, providing air support to PYD/YPG, and also being a safe home for many escaped FETO terrorists. On the contrary, the other partner supplier of Eurosam is Italy and it has better bilateral relations with Turkey compared to France. Apart from these, one should ask: would Turkey prefer to gain the friendship of Italy and France by procuring their strategic military technology instead of the two main actors of world politics–the U.S. and Russia given that are playing active roles in the future of Syria and Middle East.

Secondly, the reasoning behind the arms export policies changes from one country to another. In the past, the USSR supplied weapons primarily for political and ideological reasons, has it changed? Although it is possible to say that todays’ U.S. export policies are largely shaped by economic and commercial gains, Turkey’s investment in Russian military technology is perceived not only as an economic/financial loss but also as a political challenge for U.S.’ regional policies. In the T-LORAMIDS tender Eurosam offered the SAMP/T system that uses Aster 30 Block 1 missiles, with a $4.4 billion bid. Though the price is high, it might be turned into an advantage. First, money would be circulating inside the European economy. Second, Turkey would gain if Eurosam adopted a positive attitude on “co-production” and “work shares” for Turkish defense companies. It must be underlined that the Turkish government has continued talks with the European bidders by offering a new consortium in which Thales, MBDA, ROKETSAN and ASELSAN firms would be partners with equal rights.

Third but most importantly is SAMP/T would be highly advantageous for Turkey’s current air defense infrastructure. That is to say, if Turkey would award the bidder Eurosam, there would not be any discussions on NATO compatibility, because SAMP/T is technically compatible with the weapons, systems and platforms used by NATO countries. SAMP/T is a theatre anti-missile system designed to protect  battlefield and sensitive tactical sites, so Aster-30 Block-1 seemed to fulfill at least the minimum requirements cited in the T-LORAMIDS tender. However, the number of missile batteries to be deployed is also an important factor for strengthening Turkey’s missile defense capability. Likewise, technical properties of SAMP/T that are listed on paper do not guarantee high operational performance. The true technological capabilities of the missile system depend on its performance in real warfare. The fact remains that, the Aster-30 Block-1 system is said to be effective against Scud-based missiles that are likely to be a primary threat against Turkey, however Aster-30 Block-1 has never encountered Scud missiles in the real theater of war, unlike the Patriots.  Nevertheless, it is emphasized that SAMP/T successfully intercepted and destroyed Israel-made “Black Sparrow” ballistic target missiles during tests. In this respect, Eurosam acquired a striking reputation by receiving an international award which recognized the success of live firing tests conducted on 6 March 2013 with an Aster 30 Block 1 missile against a target representing a SCUD-type tactical ballistic missile, in liaison with the NATO command chain. Certainly this award did not only confirm SAMP/T’s anti-ballistic capabilities but also proved its interoperability with NATO systems via Link 16 that is crucial to integrate into joint force and inter-allied operations. In October 6, 2015, Eurosam received the “Technology Pioneer Award” given by U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA). In addition, Eurosam’s offer provided both tactical and strategic opportunities such as it would constitute an infrastructure for the missile systems that Turkey might require after completion of the TF-2000 Air Defence Warfare (ADW) Destroyer Project. If Turkey preferred the Aster-30 Block-1 model, by changing the software, the system could be integrated to a newer and advanced version providing sea-based self-defense, an Aster-30 Block-2 model capable against Intermediate-range Ballistic Missiles. Accordingly, frigates that are products of the TF-2000 project would be able to use Aster-30 Block-2 missiles without seeking new missile systems. SAMP/T’s Aster missiles are therefore preferable both for land and naval platforms.

As a conclusion, Eurosam’s SAMP/T offer provided a wide range of opportunities compared to other bidders from the U.S., Russia and China. However, one must take into account that arms trade creates a long-term technical, military and political engagement, as well as a strategic cooperation between customers and their suppliers. Therefore, Turkey’s choice was not only dependent on the technological superiority of a missile defense system but also to its “gain and loss” calculations in political, military, economic and regional issues.

Turkey still can purchase the SAMP/T missile defense system and make it operational by integrating it into NATO systems. Here, Ankara must consider an paying extra amount of money for another high altitude air and missile defense system while deploying S-400s. That is to say, Ankara must agree and be prepared to carry an extra financial burden of procuring another missile defense system. This burden might be understandable if Ankara and Washington can bargain and compromise on various issues such as the F-35 project or establishing a “safe zone” along the Turkish border. Yet, it must be underlined that if Turkey were to procure SAMP/T, then it must determine carefully whether to make S400s operational or not. The strategic deterrence of S-400 and SAMP/T system is not the same and their technological capabilities and operational performance against the air breathing and ballistic missile threats. As a result, if Turkey buys and deploys two missile defense systems at the same time, it has to firstly decide to make both of them operational or not. Secondly, European allies have to agree to sell their system to Turkey when S-400 is operational and functioning by its own stand-alone mechanism. Thirdly, if all the vendors from Russia and Europe agree to allow Turkey to make use their missile system then Ankara needs carefully decide the location of deployment, identifying the critical sites to be protected from varying air threats.