S-400 deal difficult than Ankara is willing to admit

The chances of NATO-member Turkey actually buying the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system it has ordered are "less than 10 percent", Haldun Solmaztürk, a retired Turkish general told China’s Xinhua news agency.

The $2-billion agreement announced in September was immediately met with criticism from NATO members. They said the Russian missiles do not meet the pact's criteria for interoperability, which states that a military system should be able to work smoothly with NATO equipment and personnel. 

The Russian S-400 missile system is in fact designed not to work with, but to defeat NATO systems, according to defence analyst Carlo Kopp; and that might be why Erdoğan wants them in the first place, the Foundation to Defend Democracies said in a policy brief.

Turkey rejected the NATO objections however, and Erdoğan said a deposit already been paid to Russia. According to experts speaking to Russian newspaper Kommersant, the deposit amounted to more than $100 million.

While confirming the advance payment, Vladimir Kozhin, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, told the Russian Interfax news agency the deal only included "supply" of the weapons, and did not include the transfer of technology as Turkey expected. That would mean Turkey would not be able to develop or produce its own versions of the S-400.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told the Akşam daily last month that the armed forces needed the missile defence system urgently, but if Russia did not agree to the joint production of S-400s in Turkey, the deal could be off.

The next day, Sergey Chemezov, CEO of the Russian state company for defence technologies, Rostec, was quoted in Kommersant as saying Turkey could not simply make such sophisticated equipment from scratch. Doing so would require qualified personnel and a school to train them. "All this would take several decades," Chemezov said.

It is possible that Turkey might be attempting to play the United States off Russia as an attempt to get a lower price for similar U.S. weapons systems, analysts said. But given the current tensions between Turkey and the United States, that could backfire.

For Turkey, the deal with Russia is less about bargaining and more about its long-term plan to develop its own missile capabilities.

In 2013, the last time Turkey sought to buy a missile defence system, it had four options: U.S. Patriot PAC-3, European SAMP/T Aster 30, Chinese FD-2000 and the Russian S-300 (the predecessor of the S-400). To much surprise, Turkey chose the Chinese system which included a 50 percent technology share in co-production, despite U.S. sanctions against the Chinese company.

When the Chinese deal was finally cancelled in 2015, it was not because of NATO pressure, but because the two sides could not agree on sharing the technology.

Now with Russia, it is not NATO’s warnings to Turkey, but Turkey’s demands that may break the latest missile deal.