Offsets are not the only problem in the sale of Patriot missiles to Turkey

A group of German soldiers stand guard near a Patriot air defense system battery in the southern province of Kahramanmaraş.

Abdullah Bozkurt

The major stumbling block between Turkey and the United States on the finalization of the sale of $3.5 billion worth of Patriot missile systems, whose purchase awaits approval by the US Congress, has always been the issue of offsets. But that is not the only problem in the proposed sale, unfortunately.

Judging from the wording in the notification the US State Department sent to Congress on Dec. 18, 2018, this issue still remains undecided. “The purchaser requested offsets. At this time offset agreements are undetermined and will be defined in negotiations between the purchaser and contractors,” Andrea Thompson, under secretary of state for arms control and international security, stated in the arms sale notification to Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The prime contractors will be Raytheon Corporation in Andover, Massachusetts, and Lockheed-Martin in Dallas, Texas,” she added.

The issue of offsets, or co-production, was certainly nothing new as Turkey and the US have failed to come up with an agreement on the terms for nearly a decade. The only new element in the divergence is that Turkey has repeatedly announced that it would go through with the purchase of S-400 long-range missiles from Russia in defiance of NATO and US concerns. If Ankara proceeds with the sale and transfer of the S-400 missile batteries, that would set off a range of sanctions from the United States that might cripple Turkish defense companies including state-owned firms.

We saw the same game played out before when the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed an agreement with China to purchase the FD-2000 long-range air and missile defense system manufactured by China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CPMIEC), a firm that was under US sanctions for violating the Iran, North Korea and Syria Non-proliferation Act at the time. I know many US officials, military and civilian, came to Ankara to explain the negative consequences of going through with this sale, and the Erdoğan government had to cancel the contract in 2015. In a major snub to the Chinese, Erdogan announced the cancellation during the G-20 Leaders Summit held in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya where China’s president was the guest of Turkey.

Perhaps the same fate awaits the Russian S-400 purchase agreement even though Turkish officials have repeatedly said the deal is already done and the down payment has been made to the Russians. Although the Erdoğan government has become quite unpredictable in foreign relations in the last couple of years and has damaged Turkey’s traditional alliance ties, my hunch is that Erdoğan will buckle in the end and drop the Russian deal. Unless, of course, Erdogan keeps this very expensive Russian defense toy just to keep his lavish palace safe in the capital as a stand-alone protection unit, as is rumored in Ankara circles, then both deals would possibly proceed.

Going back to the offset talks, I don’t think the US position and the terms offered by US contractors to Turkey have fundamentally changed from what was put on the table years ago. I remember the deal was already sweetened back in 2013 when I was briefed by a Pentagon official who visited Ankara at the time to lobby against Turkey buying Chinese missiles. He also admitted that China’s generous offer in pricing, co-production of missiles by Turkish companies and technology transfer could not be met by the US contractors since they are private companies bidding against heavily subsidized Chinese state companies. I suppose the same argument is valid for Russia today as well.

But the fact remains that Erdoğan’s criticism that some NATO member countries also have Russian weapons, hinting that former Warsaw Pact countries that later became NATO members inherited stockpiles of Soviet (now Russian) weaponry, is false. “There is no single example of those stockpiles being integrated to the Alliance integrated defense system capabilities,” the Pentagon official told me. The interoperability of Chinese or Russian systems with NATO’s integrated defense capabilities as well as concerns of cyber security and data protection of NATO systems are major challenges if Turkey decides to go ahead with the Russian option.

The proposed sale of the Patriot systems to Turkey includes four AN/MPQ-65 Radar Sets, four AN/MSQ-132 Engagement Control Stations, 10 Antenna Mast Groups, 20 M903 Launching Stations, 80 Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced Missiles (GEM-T) with canisters, 60 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) Missiles and five Electrical Power Plants (EPP) III.

The offer also includes communications equipment, tools and test equipment, range and test programs, support equipment, prime movers, generators, publications and technical documentation, training equipment and spare and repair parts. It would also require personnel training and technical, engineering, and logistics support services, field office support and other elements of logistics.

There are other issues with the Patriot sale that were not there several years ago. In a policy justification letter, the US administration told Congress that “Turkey is a member of and critical enabling platform for the Defeat-ISIS campaign and continues to be an essential element of our National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy efforts to compete against great powers in both Europe and the Middle East. The TPY-2 radar site that Turkey hosts is important to the European Phased Adaptive Approach and to efforts to protect Allies and partners against growing Iranian ballistic missile threats.”

Firstly, Turkey has not been a real partner in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and in fact has been an enabler and facilitator of ISIL and other jihadist fighters in the region. Incirlik Air Base in Adana, where the US-led NATO allies conduct the campaign against ISIL, has come under intense pressure from the Turkish government with criminal investigations launched into some current and former members of the US military. Secondly, Turkey’s pivoting to Russia and Erdoğan’s open declaration of joint efforts with Tehran to defeat US sanctions on Iran show the current government of Turkey is not a real partner in promoting the security interests of its allies.

Another current problem that many allies see in the Erdoğan government is the weakened trust in the protection of confidential information passed on Turkey. While the Turkish military is staffed with anti-NATO and anti-US generals as most of the pro-Western officers including 150 generals were dismissed and/or jailed on dubious coup and terrorism charges, it would be difficult to feel much confidence in the current military and defense leaders in Turkey.

Likewise, the Turkish Intelligence Organization (MIT) is led by pro-Iranian Islamist figure Hakan Fidan, and the police department, the main law enforcement agency in Turkey, has been crippled, with nearly the entire leadership of veteran chiefs purged from the force. A strong anti-NATO culture is settling in to both agencies. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to understand how the US government concluded that “[a] determination has been made that Turkey can provide substantially the same degree of protection for the sensitive technology being released as the U.S. Government.”

A case in point is a 2011 espionage case in the western province of Izmir where an espionage network harvested classified NATO and US documents, sensitive technology using honey-traps, money offers and other means. The investigators who uncovered this were punished, the case was hushed up and all the main suspects were released without even a slap on the wrist.

We know from the US government declaration that the Patriot Air Defense System contains classified “CONFIDENTIAL” hardware components, “SECRET” tactical software and “CRITICAL/SENSITIVE” technology. They may be at risk under the current regime in Turkey, whose leadership boosts the perception that it is rapidly becoming a strongly hostile nation. That is what the narrative as well policy actions to some extent tell us loud and clear.


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