“It is puzzling from a NATO perspective that this ally wants to develop offensive missile capabilities,” one NATO ambassador in Ankara told the website Defense News. “Turkey is part of the security umbrella. We are not sure if any Turkish effort for offensive missiles makes strategic sense … despite [Turkey’s] legitimate perceptions of increased military threat in its region."
“Such ambitions can fuel sectarian tensions in the region. A missile rivalry between a NATO member and Iran does not sound pleasant in any way,” he is quoted as saying by the website.
Turkey’s ambitions have caused concerns from other experts, who are wondering if Turkey may eventually go rogue.
“Ballistic missiles have certain disadvantages … like lack of precision. They can also be easily intercepted. Their limited payload is another problem. In comparison a modern fighter jet can carry up to four or five times more payload and is an agile aerial asset,” said one London-based Turkey specialist.
He explained that missiles are often preferred by “rogue states” as they can carry biological, chemical and nuclear warheads.
“Turkey is not a rogue state and it is curious that it has ambitions to develop offensive missile systems,” he added.
On January 7, Turkey’s top procurement official, Ismail Demir, reiterated Turkey’s ambitions to develop offensive missiles.
“It is difficult for a country to be deterrent with defensive missiles only … This is why offensive [missile] systems too should be developed,” Demir claimed at a briefing to the Turkish parliament’s defense committee.
“The political authority is determined that Turkey should possess such missile capabilities. How, at what cost and how soon are questions that remain to be examined,” he added.
In November, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on the Turkish national TV channel ATV that Turkey may adopt a strategy of local acquisition of long-range surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) with offensive capabilities with a range of about 3,000 kilometers.
The selection of CPMIEC drew considerable criticism from the US as well as from other NATO allies over inter-operability and the security issues of operating a Chinese system.
“What is important is whether we will engage in defense or offense in the long term. We want [these missiles] to be developed locally but to also have an offensive nature. With the cancellation of the missile tender we took this step. We are currently developing missiles, but we are not at the level we want them to be concerning their range,” Erdogan told ATV on November 18, highlighting that the canceled T-Loramids project was a missile defense project.
The politicians admit that at any such program’s initial stages, Turkey would need foreign know-how.
Without naming any particular country that may be willing to assist any Turkish program, Ismail Demir, however, did not reject the “Chinese option.”
“This is because Turkey's allies will refrain from forging any cooperation with Ankara to help it develop long-range missiles that will have ballistic missile capabilities as well,” suggests Turkish English-language daily Today’s Zaman.
The move, it says, will mark a dramatic change in Turkey's defense policy of acquiring non-offensive weapons.
“Hence it now seems Turkey will no longer rely solely on NATO's security umbrella in the case of any threats posed to it and will go solo when necessary.”