No Match For S-400s: Turkey’s Air Defense System Unlikely To Offer Any Competition To S-400, Patriot Missiles – Experts

Turkey, presently the 14th largest arms exporter in the world, has been developing its military-industrial complex over the years as a national priority, but still lacks the technological know-how to produce domestic air defense systems that can compete with Russia’s S-400 or the American Patriot.

On December 28, Turkey announced that in 2022 it will continue developing its new air defense systems, HISAR and SIPER, as part of a domestic missile defense project with the aim of substituting the S-400 and Patriot.

The country has already successfully tested the surface-to-air HISAR A+ and HISAR O+ missile systems, bringing it one step closer to the SIPER air defense system.

However, experts believe that it is unlikely that the system, which Ankara expects to become operational in 2023, will be a viable alternative to foreign options anytime soon.

Turkey initially opted to buy a system from foreign manufacturers, first from China, and when that project was canceled, from Russia, as being quicker and cheaper, according to Gareth Jenkins, a senior research fellow with the Joint Center Silk Road Studies Program and Turkey Center at the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm.

s-400 Missile
File Image: S-400 Missile

“The problem is that developing its own air defense system would be very expensive and would take a long time even if it was able to secure some technology transfers from foreign companies – and it would take much longer if Turkey had to try to produce all of the technology itself,” Jenkins said.

The main obstacle to Turkey’s ambition to become a top global arms producer is that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not understand military technology, the expert noted. While it does make sense for the country to manufacture some items domestically, it still lacks the resources, both financially and in terms of expertise, to manufacture everything itself, Jenkins explained.

“It takes a long time to accumulate the necessary expertise and military technology is often extremely expensive. There is a huge difference between manufacturing drones and creating an effective air defense system or a stealth fighter,” he said.

The idea that Turkey can develop an air defense system to rival those of Russia and the US is delusional, Jenkins added. Ankara simply does not have enough money to do everything alone, nor should it use taxpayer money for something this unreasonable, he said.

Concerning a potential contract with Ukraine for a new air defense system alongside Bayraktar drones, Jenkins doubted Turkey would be able to sell SIPER to other countries at a competitive price or that Ukraine would be ready to wait several years until it is ready.

Turkey test-fires air defense missile Siper

Recent announcements about the successful development and testing of the air defense system are more likely linked to the upcoming general election in 2023 and Erdogan’s waning popularity amid a deepening economic crisis, the expert said.

“He [Erdogan] is trying to boost his flagging popularity by regaling Turks with delusions – whether ludicrous conspiracy theories or claims that he has transformed Turkey into a global leader. His grandiose ambitions for the Turkish defense industry are as likely to be realized as his ambitions for Turkey’s space program. He is trying to sell a dream. It is not reality,” Jenkins concluded.

However, Huseyin Bagci, president of the Turkish Foreign Policy Institute and a professor of international relations at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, told Sputnik that he can see Turkey’s air defense system reaching the quality of the S-400 or Patriot after some time.

File Image: German Patriot missile launcher – Wikimedia Commons

“Turkey needs these systems in the long run. Erdogan invests in the defense sector heavily and the progress is remarkable. Therefore to compete with Russia and the USA it is too early, but the final aim is definitely to reach this competition,” Bagci said.

Bagci also doubted that the statements on achievements in the defense sector are directly linked to the elections, but was certain that they will have an impact thereon, and will be used as a “domestic election instrument.” The expert also did not rule out the possibility of exports to Ukraine, since Turkey has already earned a good reputation for its drones.