Cooperation on SAMP/T air defense system is important for Europe and Turkey

The cooperation on the SAMP/T air defense system is a good opportunity for faster normalization and even deepening of political relations between Turkey and Europe Haci Mehmet Boyraz and Selim Yesiltas write in Daily Sabah. While the war between Russia and Ukraine continues, there has been an important development that could facilitate a positive agenda in Turkey-Europe relations.
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Aster 30 SAMP/T protects sensitive sites and deployed forces against missile threats (TBM, stand-off, cruise missiles, ARM) and aircraft, replacing all existing medium-range ground-to-air systems. (Picture source: MBDA)

In the statements made by the Turkish, French and Italian leaders after the extraordinary NATO summit held last week, Haci Mehmet Boyraz and Selim Yesiltas report, it was announced that Turkey’s involvement in the SAMP/T air defense system project will be accelerated. In fact, the three countries agreed on this cooperation in 2017 but due to the political problems experienced afterward, triple-sided cooperation could not be realized. However, as a result of the normalized Turkey-Europe relations, the discussion about Turkey’s involvement in this Franco-Italian partnership has come to the fore again.

Aster 30 SAMP/T protects sensitive sites and deployed forces against missile threats (TBM, stand-off, cruise missiles, ARM) and aircraft, replacing all existing medium-range ground-to-air systems. The Aster 30 SAMP/T system is designed to meet medium and long-range air defense needs (force projection, protection of high-value areas and area protection). It can operate in stand-alone mode or can be integrated into a coordinated network.

Aster is a two-stage missile, a concept that leads to the maximum effectiveness of the interceptor stage. The solid propellant booster ensures the optimum shaping of the missile’s trajectory in the direction of the target and separates a few seconds after the vertical launch. Up to its mid-course, the weapon is inertially guided, using refreshed target data transmitted by the engagement module through the multi-function radar. During the homing phase, guidance is achieved by an electromagnetic active seeker providing a highly accurate capability in all weathers.

So, SAMP/T is produced by the Eurosam consortium of European missile maker MBDA, itself a joint venture between Airbus, Italy’s Leonardo, Britain’s BAE Systems, France’s Thales, whose main shareholders are the French state, and Dassault Aviation. This integrated defense system can even defeat ballistic missiles. The system, which is currently in the inventory of a limited number of countries, has so far been deployed to a number of countries for operational missions.

As for Turkey's involvement in the SAMP/T project, Haci Mehmet Boyraz and Selim Yesiltas write, it should be noted that a memorandum of understanding was signed between France, Italy and Turkey in 2017, just before the political tension between Turkey and the West started. With the said agreement, the three countries declared goodwill to jointly produce SAMP/T as compatible with NATO systems. Later, as a result of technical negotiations between the parties, at the beginning of 2018, it was decided that Eurosam would work together with Turkey’s Aselsan and Roketsan.

This positive development was welcomed by all parties as it could both improve Turkey’s know-how capacity and strengthen defense-oriented ties between Turkey and Europe. However, this positive momentum did not continue. The most important reason for this is related to the political problems between Turkey and the parties in 2017 and after. Unable to obtain the U.S.- made Raytheon Patriot air defense system, Turkey's search to protect its national security led it to procure the S-400 air defense system from Russia, Haci Mehmet Boyraz and Selim Yesiltas recall. However, Turkey’s relations became strained after the U.S. and Europe opposed this development due to their geopolitical concerns. As a result, Turkey was excluded from many international defense industry projects such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet and the SAMP/T air defense system.

In addition to these, the tension in the Eastern Mediterranean region between Turkey, Greece, France and Italy was among the factors that hindered the progress of the SAMP/T project. Turkey stopped the ship sent by Italy-based energy company ENI to the region in 2018. Since the ship had been sent with unilateral permission from the Greek Cypriot administration, tension rose for Ankara with Italy and the European Union. Similarly, the signing of an agreement between France and the Greek Cypriot administration to develop cooperation in the military field in 2017 and the subsequent allocation of a military base to France on Greek Cypriot territory further increased the tension in Turkish-French relations. When Turkey’s and France’s confrontations in Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh were added to this development, the attempt to produce the SAMP/T air defense system together failed.

While SAMP/T did not have a serious place on the agenda until recently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan brought this issue back to the spotlight by making a statement that Turkey would take positive steps regarding the project after the G-20 summit held in Rome in November 2021. Subsequently, when Russia’s intervention in Ukraine began, reviving the tripartite cooperation between Turkish and European stakeholders came to the fore again. Recently, after Erdoğan’s meetings with his French and Italian counterparts at the NATO summit last week, it was decided to take concrete steps regarding tripartite cooperation. Moreover, Erdoğan discussed the possibility of buying SAMP/T missile defense systems.

At a time when Turkey-Europe relations are normalizing, Haci Mehmet Boyraz and Selim Yesiltas write, Turkey’s inclusion in the SAMP/T project can play an important role in reviving political relations between the parties. On one hand, Turkey is keen to have a defense system that it produces with its own means or that it is a partner in. On the other hand, France and Italy have signaled an interest in cooperation with Turkey in the defense industry. Therefore, apart from ideological prejudices, there is no obstacle to the realization of this tripartite cooperation.

The stance France and Italy take regarding triple cooperation will also be a concrete indication of how Europe plans to maintain its relations with Turkey. European countries could prove their intentions by making room for Turkey in the SAMP/T project and establishing a rational relationship, Haci Mehmet Boyraz and Selim Yesiltas conclude.