Roketsan put on a lavish display at IDEF 2017. Its usual assembly of dumb and smart ordnance did have a rare inclusion, however: the Khan, or Bora Kaan, tactical ballistic missile.
The Khan/Kaan is the most advanced battlefield asset developed by a Turkish manufacturer so far. But it’s also a bit of a question mark. It’s deployed by an 8×8 transporter mounting two cells containing one 610mm missile each. Earlier in 2017 Roketsan brought the Khan to Abu Dhabi for the IDEX arms show. Its growing exposure suggests a dedicated effort at finding a buyer insecure enough to acquire a critical product that Roketsan doesn’t even advertise on its own website.
But how did Turkey end up with a ballistic missile of its own?
To be clear, the Khan is what’s called a tactical ballistic missile. The long-winded nomenclature almost obscures its essential role. The Khan is meant to deploy behind ground forces for precision strikes disabling enemy command centers, hard and soft infrastructure, and other sensitive targets.
It’s unknown if the Turkish Army has adopted the Khan. But its existence is fitting for a country beset by neighbors who’ve possessed the same capability for decades now. As a matter of fact, even small and beleaguered Armenia cherishes a modest stockpile of Iskanders. Two other potential rivals, Syria and Iran, maintain their own worrisome stocks of surface to surface missiles.
One can speculate whether Turkey sought help from abroad for its domestic missile program. NATO member states aren’t known for trafficking in ballistic missiles. The closest candidate for such assistance is Israel. Pakistan could have provided the same expertise while Russia, a longstanding nemesis, is out of the question.
A closer examination of the Khan and its manufacturer reveals clues about its origins. Founded in 1988, Roketsan was a venture for licensed missile production. But during the 1990s the armed forces sought its own battlefield rockets. This prompted an undisclosed partnership with China, who shared the rights for building towed and mobile launchers.
These include the portable TR-107 and the TR-122, which is a descendant of the Soviet BM-21 Grad. To maximize its firepower the Turkish army adopted the larger TR-300 and the J-600T Yildirim, a short range ballistic missile.
It appears the Yildirim, whose subsequent variants had a range estimated at 900 kilometers, together with the Khan represent the long-term fruits of Sino-Turkic cooperation.
The connection between the Yildirim and the Khan is unclear. But in 2016 China unveiled a new tactical ballistic missile deployed on twin cells. It was called the M20 and its capabilities were derived from another model, the B-611, that some believe is copied from Russian technology China acquired in the mid-1980s when it was busy upgrading its missile arsenal.
There’s reason to assume, judging by Roketsan’s long collaboration with its Chinese partners, that the Khan is a Turkified M20. The open sources for the latter reveal enough commonalities, such as a range between 280 to 300 km and the mutual use of inertial navigation to guide a 470 kilogram (1,036 lbs) high explosive warhead.
The Khan missile and its Chinese counterpart share the same weight, dimensions, and launch configuration. Though it’s unclear if Roketsan and Turkey’s defense ministry have a fixed unit price for the Khan, the way it’s being positioned in the market subscribes to a familiar pattern. Turkey has a keen interest in selling to fellow Muslim states and other culturally Turkic countries, i.e. the Central Asian -stans, hence these are the likeliest would-be customers for Roketsan’s deadliest merchandise.