A case for military-technical partnership between Turkey and Russia

by Ilya Kramnik

The contract for the supply of anti-aircraft missile systems S-400 to Turkey can be only the first sign if the two countries manage to establish full-fledged cooperation in the military sphere. Izvestia understood the chances of Moscow and Ankara for strategic rapprochement.

It is necessary to realize that the situation in the relations of the two countries is rather unusual and has arisen on a historical scale recently, against the background of the events of the last 20 years. The drive of cooperation between Russia and Turkey was the disappointment of the leadership of both countries in the “Western choice”, aggravated by the crisis in relations between Moscow and Brussels and Washington, as well as the unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by the pro-Western leadership of the armed forces of the country during the coup in summer 2016.

These events led to a dramatic change in the configuration of political relations. A new cold war has actually begun between Russia and the West, fraught with the collapse of the last pillars of strategic stability formed in the post-war period. The relations between Turkey and the EU are overshadowed by the failure of Ankara's many years of efforts to join the European Union and the contradictions that regularly arise on a number of different issues - from the approach to respecting human rights to problems in the energy sector. In many ways, similar problems complicate relations between Turkey and the United States, and the failed coup attempt against the background of deepening contradictions regarding the prospects for resolving the Middle East conflict did not add sympathy for the Turkish leadership to Washington.

The expansion of cooperation between Russia and Turkey from the energy sector to the military in these conditions was a natural step. Could it be the beginning of a long journey?

Up to the present, military-technical cooperation was characterized by irregularity and relatively small volumes of supplies of the least expensive equipment. Among the most notable deals of recent decades, we can recall the supply of Mi-17 helicopters for the Turkish Gendarmerie under a 1995 contract, the same agreement on the supply of about 500 BTR-80 armored personnel carriers and the 2008 contract on the delivery of Kornet ATGM. None of these deals changed the picture as a whole: Turkey remained a country oriented in military cooperation to the West.

It cannot be said that Russia did not attempt to strengthen its position in the Turkish market: Moscow also participated in the helicopter tender, offering Ankara Ka-50-2 (not to be confused with Ka-52!) - a double version of the Black Shark Ka-50 with landing pilots one after another (and not close by, as on the Ka-52), and in the T-LORAMIDS tender for the supply of long-range air defense systems, but to no avail. As a result, the main "booty" of Russian gunsmiths were service contracts - for the maintenance of the above-mentioned equipment, as well as Soviet-made weapons purchased by Turkey in other countries.

The new stage after the well-known events of 2015–16 was marked by negotiations and the subsequent contract for the supply of the S-400 system. Ankara acquired four C-400 divisions (a battalion in Western terminology) worth about $ 2.5 billion.

Due to its scale, as well as the level of the transferred system, the contract has its own characteristics that can seriously affect the development of cooperation between the two countries in the future.

Let's call them:

- this is the first major military deal of Russia and Turkey;

- the first delivery of a complex modern system that requires deepening of interaction - taking into account the need for thorough preparation of a sufficiently large number of military and technical specialists;

- because of the capabilities of the S-400, this deal opens the way to the creation of a national air defense system of Turkey, capable of combining Russian, Western, and, in the long run, own production.

How can the cooperation of the two countries develop in the future? For a start it is worth highlighting the general parameters by which it can be characterized, and to name the goals.

Firstly, unlike most other cases, the military-technical cooperation of Russia and Turkey can become a two-way road. Due to the level of technological development in Russia and Turkey, both parties can act as importers and exporters, transferring both finished products and technologies.

Both sides may be interested in developing joint programs and projects, including with the involvement of third countries. Finally, both Moscow and Ankara show interest in the cooperation of the armed forces, especially after a serious weakening of the position of the pro-Western faction in the military leadership of Turkey.

The objectives of cooperation can be summarized as follows:

- development of the defense industry of both sides through increasing technological capabilities, expanding the market and the range of products;

- improvement of mutual relations in the course of this development - due to a better understanding of the capabilities and needs of the parties and the development of contacts at different levels;

- strengthening security in the Black Sea, the Levant, in the Middle East

If we talk about concrete potential examples of cooperation in the military sphere, then it is worth starting with military aviation, where serious changes are possible in the near future.

Taking into account the difficulties with the supply of F-35 for the Turkish Air Force and the imminent refusal of these supplies from the US due to the decision of Ankara to purchase C-400, the purchase of Su-35 fighter jets in Russia becomes a possible option. When concluding a large contract (for 80–100 machines of this type), it becomes possible to transfer technologies, including the transfer of a number of works to the Turkish industry for the final assembly, maintenance, repair of these aircraft and their engines, as well as the production of components with a gradual increase in localization .

In the future, if Ankara wishes, it is possible to establish cooperation in the creation of the fifth generation fighter for the Turkish Air Force on the basis of the Su-57 (T-50) fighter preparing for mass production in Russia. This machine could well not only replace the F-35, but also satisfy Turkey’s desire to obtain its own combat aircraft, albeit with supplies from a number of foreign components.

In the field of air defense, as already mentioned, the delivery of the S-400 paves the way for the creation of an integrated national air defense system in Turkey, with the active involvement of the Turkish industry. On the part of Russia, we can talk about the supply of additional S-400 systems, shorter range systems, as well as joint development of air defense systems, as was done, for example, in the case of South Korea - in whose interests with the participation of the Almaz-Antey concern The KM SAM medium range air defense system was developed.

Russian missile technologies may be of significant interest to Turkey, including the organization of joint development of missile systems along the lines of Bramos and cooperation for export to third countries.

In the field of naval technology, Russia can participate in the renewal of the submarine fleet of Turkey, including in the form of a joint development of a diesel submarine of a new generation, taking into account the actual sabotage of the construction of the 214 submarines for the Turkish Navy by the German side.

In addition, Russian weapons can be used to upgrade the Turkish MilGem warships, which are currently supposed to be equipped with American harpoon anti-ship missiles, which are significantly inferior to modern Russian models in TTX.

In turn, Russia may be interested in a number of Turkish developments. First of all, in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles, where Turkey already has experience in its own production and development of UAVs, including drums.

In the naval sphere, Moscow may be interested in Turkish boats, characterized by high performance, as well as Turkey’s experience in building a universal landing craft. The first ship of this type, the Anadolu, should be launched next year. 

Russian industry and the Navy may be interested in getting acquainted with the project and building ships of this type in Russia with the participation of the Turkish industry.

Finally, both parties can develop joint projects, both for their own armed forces and for export to third countries.

Among the potential objects of such cooperation, implemented already at the current level of relations, the following can be singled out:

- improvement and development of land technology, taking into account the experience of the Middle East conflict;

- development of a maritime patrol / anti-submarine aircraft based on the Russian Il-114 platform;

- development and production of light jet combat aircraft based on the Yak-130 platform;

- development and production of counter-terrorism systems and other security features

Already in this case, the volume of cooperation may amount to many billions of dollars, not to mention possible larger transactions.

The potential of cooperation between Russia and Turkey in the military field for Izvestia was appreciated by the deputy director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) Konstantin Makienko. He drew attention to the fact that cooperation should not be limited to the standard set of “energy, space, weapons”:

- We should talk about creating an environment for cooperation, which will make it long-term, securing the geopolitical shift we are witnessing. This is primarily a connection between people, allowing you to create trust. It is necessary to train cadets and students, both Turkish in Russia and ours in Turkey, according to joint training programs. Creation of joint departments in a number of universities, both technical and humanitarian. The interaction of the armed forces - with joint exercises, internship officers and so on.

If we talk about the technical side - we must perceive Turkey not as a client and a buyer, but as a potential partner. In many areas, it is not far behind us, it allows us to complement each other’s developments. Of course, we have something to take in Turkey, and this opportunity must be used. If we talk about the sales of our weapons there, then first of all - these are air defense systems, which Turkey does not have, the editorial staff noted.

It’s still difficult to say how feasible these prospects will be, but you can see that there is a favorable environment for them. In any case, the common interests of Ankara and Moscow in the field of energy cooperation, taking into account the absence of unresolved contradictions in politics, can become a pillar for deepening ties between the two countries. The fact that the world is on the verge of change has been talked about for a long time - why not express it in this form?

Further reading:
Turkish helicopters pay the price for Ankara's rejection to cooperate with Moscow
F-35 hits the S-400
Eurasian vector in Russian-Turkish relations
NATO's Ankara is a unique asset of Moscow's diplomacy

Erdogan's Islamists will lead reforms in Turkish army

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