Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, often labeled as a dissident NATO ally by the West, has vowed to enhance defense cooperation with Italy and France.
Erdogan stated that Turkey wants to continue working on a combined defense project with France and Italy based on the SAMP/T air-defense missile system from Eurosam.
The Turkish President made the comments following the third inter-governmental meeting between him and the Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Draghi, in Ankara, where nine new bilateral cooperation agreements were signed.
The Italian Prime Minister said his nation wished to collaborate with Turkey on the Russia-Ukraine situation and appreciated Ankara’s effort at mediation between the two warring sides.
An Agreement on Mutual Protection of Confidential Information in the Defense Industry was signed between Turkey and Italy, opening way for the SAMP/T missile defense system purchase and possible tech transfer for Ankara
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) July 5, 2022
Turkey’s quest for a SAMP/T air defense system is not new. In March 2022, Erdogan announced that France, Italy, and Turkey had decided to continue exploring a way to revive the SAMP/T missile defense system project, Daily Sabah reported.
At the time, he discussed the prospect of buying the system with his French and Italian counterparts on the sidelines of an extraordinary NATO Summit, stressing that Turkey was an indispensable ally for regional security.
“We have decided to continue our efforts to revive the triple steps we took as Turkey-France-Italy. I hope we will start this new process vigorously after the elections [in France],” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters on a flight back from Brussels.
In 2017, Turkey, Italy, and France signed a statement of intent to advance their combined development of air and missile defense systems.
Then, in 2018, an agreement was inked between Turkish partners Aselsan and Roketsan, and Eurosam (Italian and French Consortium) for the Long-Range Air and Missile Defense System (LORAMIDS) Project.
SAMP/T was a component of Turkey’s overall LORAMIDS air defense purchase program. However, according to an earlier statement by Turkish defense officials, the process abruptly halted due to France’s political stance. France objected strictly to Turkey’s bloody ‘Operation Peace Spring’ in north-eastern Syria in 2019.
With the French elections concluding in April and Turkey’s military role evolving on a war footing against threats faced by regional adversaries and non-state actors, the collaborative effort for air defense could be kick-started again, albeit with French approval.
Turkey’s Eagerness To Acquire SAMP/T
The three-nation missile program seeks to counter threats from drones, stealth fighter jets, and missiles. Along with providing Turkey, Italy, and France with opportunities for exports, the joint development activity was also anticipated to boost the country’s domestic air and missile development program.
The Eurosam group comprises the European missile manufacturer MBDA, a joint venture between Airbus, Italy’s Leonardo, Britain’s BAE Systems, and the French defense contractor Thales. Their primary shareholders are the French government and fighter jet manufacturer Dassault Aviation.
If the three partners had gone ahead with the Long Range Air and Missile Defense Project, Turkish manufacturers Aselsan and Roketsan would have produced a formidable air defense system together with Eurosam in 18 months.
Another air defense system acquired by Turkey has been marred in controversy ever since the purchase was made. Ankara had bought the S-400 missile defense system from Russia, for which it was expelled from the F-35 consortium by the United States, and sanctions were imposed on it.
While Italy indicated its readiness to get the project rolling in March, France has not had formal communication in this regard, which has been sitting on the program since 2019. Turkey has continued to pursue its operations against the YPG militia in Syria without any reservations, making the French decision all the more intriguing.
In late May, Erdogan announced Turkey’s plan to launch another military operation in Syria to “rid northern Syria’s Tal Rifaat and Manbij areas of terrorists.” However, on July 1, Erdogan assured his country would not rush new operations in Syria in a phone call with US President Joseph Biden.
Turkey and NATO have been rocky for a while now, with its defense relationship with Russia maturing and its reluctance to enlarge NATO by admitting Finland and Sweden. However, the issues are being worked out, and reviving this trilateral project could be an effort.
SAMP/T Missile Defense System
The SAMP/T, also known as MAMBA in the French military, is a theatre anti-missile system created to defend the battlefield and sensitive tactical locations from all present and potential airborne threats, such as cruise missiles manned and unmanned aircraft, and tactical ballistic missiles with a 600 kilometers range.
Eurosam, a 50:50 joint venture between MBDA and Thales, manufactures the SAMP/T. The Aster 30 interceptor and Arabel multi-purpose radar are two of its most essential parts.
The SAMP/T has been built to function in areas with heavy electronic countermeasures and extreme clutter. A crucial aspect of the SAMP/T program is interoperability with other NATO air defense systems.
The SAMP/T was operationally deployed by the French Army and Air Force, as well as the Italian Army, in 2011. The entire system could be flown by NATO tactical transport aircraft, such as the Airbus A400M and Lockheed-Martin C-130J Super Hercules.
The primary responsibility of the SAMP/T is to safeguard critical fixed assets and deployed troops. The French Air Force uses these systems to protect air bases.
Various missiles, such as cruise missiles, stand-off missiles, and anti-radiation missiles, can be engaged by the SAMP/T system in addition to hostile aircraft.
Different long-range radars can be made to function with the SAMP/T system. For instance, the detection range of a Thales GM400 long-range radar is 300–400 kilometers. The launcher and radar vehicles can be separated by up to 25 kilometers. The SAMP/T system uses NATO-compliant Link 16 communications architecture.
Four launcher vehicles, a Thales Arabel multifunction radar with friend or foe recognition system, an engagement module based on a command and control vehicle, and an electric generator mounted on a vehicle make up a complete SAMP/T system. Two vehicles with hydraulic cranes and trailers carrying extra missiles for reloading also accompany the launchers.
Launcher vehicles are packed with two-stage MBDA Aster 30 missiles. The booster steers the missile in the direction of the target and separates a few seconds after launch.
As President Erdogan tries to transform his military and ramp up domestic production, it would be favorable for him if he could convince Italy and France to jump-start the project.