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Turkey Is Slowly Building Its Air Defenses

December 24, 2020
Via Aselsan/Roketsan/SSB.

New promotional footage of a successful interception by the Hisar-A medium-range SAM was published in mid-December. The SSB, which oversees all military technology and procurement, provided few details about the test but promoted the short video clip on its social media accounts. The Hisar-A is a fully localized joint venture between Aselsan, a state-owned company specializing in electronics, and the ordnance manufacturer Roketsan. The new SAM system that’s been in the works for the better part of a decade is expected to enter service in 2021. But with so many Turkish military projects running into delays it’s best to remain prudent and see how the Hisar-A is further enhanced.

The first publicized test of the Hisar-A was in 2013 and since then it has matured into a program with two branches. The launcher is designed for a wheeled transport (see above) and a tracked APC; in the latter case the FNSS ACV-19, a versatile platform transferred by BAE Systems, is used to mount two vertical launchers. The Hisar-A is meant to close a worrying gap in the Turkish army’s air defenses, which are reliant on towed 35mm anti-aircraft artillery and outdated US-made SAMs like the MIM-23 Hawk. The Hisar-A SAM isn’t just up-to-date but tailored for mobility and rapid deployment at a time when Ankara is committed to an aggressive foreign policy.

The arrival of the Hisar-A is a breakthrough for Turkey’s locally made air defense weapons. In the last two years companies such as Aselsan and its partners have rolled out the Korkut SPAAG, a mobile anti-aircraft system combining tandem 35mm cannons with the ACV-19, and the Sungur short-range mobile SAM, which is based on a BMC armored truck. Aselsan is one of the first state-owned companies in the region to successfully assemble an offensive laser system, also known as the LSS, that’s been used in combat against drones. Once the Hisar-A joins this selection Turkey can boast having a complete air defense arsenal superior to most of its NATO allies.

Turkish companies are also deeply involved with a theater defense system comparable to the Patriot PAC-3 used for defending Turkish airspace. The “Siper” project is a long-range SAM to be used in a battery of launchers networked to high frequency tracking radars. The desired result is a deployable air defense umbrella that covers a radius of at least 150 kilometers. If the “Siper” is plagued by delays it leaves Ankara, along with the Turkish military, in a bind as it must rely on imported air defenses such as the Russian-made S-400, a choice that entails more repercussions than benefits.

Should the “Siper” become operational by the early 2020s this puts Turkey alongside Iran and Israel for having developed their own theater air defense system. Last year had Iran finally unveil its Bavar-373 whose development took years and saw the participation of multiple state-owned entities. Israel, on the other hand, was ahead of the curve with its Arrow-series anti-ballistic missile defense system from the 1990s. Whatever the outcome of “Siper” it’s important for Europe and the Middle East to recognize Turkey’s rise as a manufacturer of advance weapon systems that it can export.

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