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Turkey: Is Ankara Going Ballistic?
July 31, 2012 - 9:48pm, by Yigal Schleifer
Although Turkey late last year indicated its concern about the threat of ballistic missiles by agreeing to host part of NATO's new missile defense shield, Ankara now appears to be moving past this defensive posture towards something more robust.
As Today's Zaman recently reported, officials in Ankara have said that Turkey will soon start developing its own ballistic missiles. From TZ's article:
According to information acquired by Todays Zaman from sources within the Defense Ministry, Ankara will produce its own ballistic missile system to avert any threat directed against Turkish national security. The decision was taken in a recent meeting of the Defense Industry Executive Committee led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoan on July 17....
....Officials underlined that it is an imperative and necessity for Turkey to produce and develop such missiles to maintain its deterrent capability and to feel safe in an insecure environment. The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBTAK) is now developing a missile called an SOM with a range of 300 kilometers. This will be a first step towards developing a ballistic missile with a range of 2,500 kilometers. Unlike other types of missiles, ballistic missiles can fly beyond the Earths atmosphere as they dont burn oxygen, meeting no air resistance. A ballistic missile spends most of its flight in space. After the lunch, the missile arches up from one point and lands at another point. It is difficult to detect a ballistic missile on radar and harder to intercept a ballistic missile than a conventional one.
But does Turkey really need ballistic missiles? And against which threat exactly would Turkey use these missiles? In a new briefing for the World Politics Review website, Turkey-based non-proliferation analyst Aaron Stein says its questions like these that make the news coming out of Ankara both confusing and troubling. Writes Stein:
The historical role for ballistic missiles naturally raises concerns about Turkeys ultimate intent, especially when paired with its ambitious nuclear plans. Since Ankaras 2006 decision to relaunch its decades-old effort to purchase nuclear reactors, many have dubbed Turkey as the most likely state in the Middle East to pursue a nuclear capability in the event Iran develops atomic weapons. For now, however, Ankara does not appear to have made any decision to break its robust and long-standing commitment to the global nonproliferation regime. It is a member of every relevant nonproliferation instrument and appears to have conditioned future reactor sales on the delivery and removal of nuclear fuel by supplier states.
Stein concludes that Ankara's real goal may actually be to develop a rocket that can deliver a satellite to low-earth orbit, something that would help Turkey with its intelligence gathering. This conclusion is supported by the Today's Zaman article, which quotes an an anonymous government source as saying the missile project was focused on creating a Turkish satellite launch vehicle, perhaps with the help of an eastern European country that still possesses Soviet-era rocket technology.
Whatever the ultimate goal of Turkey's possible new missile program, it's appears that Ankara wants to at least create the perception among policymakers and military planners in some regional capitals that it's going ballistic.