What would an Arms Embargo mean for Turkey?

A number of Turkey’s NATO allies have suspended arms sales to the country in condemnation of its military incursion into Syria, but analysts and officials are shrugging off the embargo, saying it will have a minimal impact on the military’s operational capabilities.

Several countries, including France, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain and Germany, imposed arms embargoes against the Turkish government after its troops entered Syria to attack the Kurdish militia, which Turkey views as a terrorist group. Turkey said its military operation, launched Oct. 9, will help create a safe zone in northeastern Syria.

The Trump administration announced its own sanctions against Turkey earlier this month over the offensive in Syria, though those sanctions included a Treasury Department waiver to allow foreign military sales to continue, according to a senior defense official. President Donald Trump also threatened via Twitter earlier this month that he would “totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if Ankara took any action he considered “off-limits.” But the president said Oct. 23 that he plans to lift all sanctions leveled against Turkey for its recent military operations following reports of a fresh cease-fire agreement.

Turkey boasts that it locally produces most hardware and ammunition required for the campaign. Turkish officials claim local production currently meets 70 percent of the military’s requirements, compared with 20 percent 15 years ago.

Demir said most systems used in the operation including helicopters, smart ammunition, rockets, infantry rifles, armored vehicles and electronic warfare systems are supplied by the local industry. However, the Turkish military did experience a temporary shortage of ammunition, a Turkish security official told Defense News on the condition of anonymity. “Some ammunition stocks we normally bought from the West ran short but was quickly replaced by Russian supplies,” he said.

An Ankara-based defense analyst pointed to Ukraine, Belarus, Pakistan, South Korea and China as alternative sources for ammunition. “Especially China would volunteer to sell almost every weapons system,” he said.

It also wouldn’t be difficult to imagine Russia filling the void left by a lack of high-tech Western systems. After the U.S. suspended Turkey’s partnership in the multinational Joint Strike Fighter program in retaliation for Turkey’s $2.5 billion purchase of Russian-made S-400 air defense systems, Ankara turned to Moscow for a stopgap solution to bolster its fighter fleet.

Erdogan visited the MAKS air show in Russia this year with President Vladimir Putin. No deal was announced, but the two leaders ate ice cream together and Erdogan took a photo with Russia’s Su-57 stealth fighter. Meanwhile Turkey is trying to design and develop its first indigenous fighter jet. But officials privately admit the country will likely miss its original deadline of 2023 to fly the planned aircraft.

Russian 5th Generation Fighter Jet SU-57 being offered to Turkey since US suspended Turkey’s membership from the F-35 programme

Moscow’s courting of Ankara is likely to increase following the latter’s spat with Washington over the fate of the Kurds in northern Syria, and few things are more attractive to the Kremlin right now than spoiling America’s relations with its NATO allies, according to Russian political analyst Vladimir Frolov. “It makes sense to sell Erdogan just about anything he wants, so long as it further deepens the strains between Turkey and U.S. and NATO,” Frolov said, noting that nuclear weapons are off the table.

Western arms embargoes on Ankara is nothing new. In May 2018, lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a $717 billion annual defense policy bill that included a measure to temporarily halt weapons sales to Turkey. In addition, Turkish officials have been unsuccessfully negotiating with German manufacturers to acquire engine and transmission system for the Altay, Turkey’s first indigenous main battle tank in the making. Berlin has cited political concerns for its reluctance to permit any technology transfer for the Altay.

Turkey in Syria with its indigenously built armaments

A German diplomat told Defense News that Turkey’s operation in Syria hurts Turkey’s negotations for Altay technology. “We simply don’t want German technology used in any cross-border operation targeting Kurds,” the official said. The German embargo jeopardizes Turkey’s planned program to upgrade scores of German-made Leopard II battle tanks. The Turkish Army has in its inventory 720 Leopard I and Leopard II tanks. About 200 of them have been upgraded.

Credits: Defense News and World Defence

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