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Turkey’s Indigenous Long-Range SAM Passes Key Milestone

On 06 November 2021, Turkey’s Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB) announced that the country test-fired its ‘SIPER’ long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM).

The SSB announced the test through Twitter. In a statement, the head of the SSB, Dr. Ismail Demir, stated that the test firing was a key stage in the development of the SIPER. The tweet includes a video of the test firing from Roketsan, one of the primary Turkish contractors of the SIPER program.

Roketsan carried out the test firing at an instrumented weapons range in the Sinop province, which is by the Black Sea. Turkey is working to induct the SIPER by 2023.

According to Demir (via an interview with the Daily Sabah), the SIPER relies on a dual-pulse motor rocket (DPMR) for propulsion. It can use an active radar-homing (ARH) and imaging infrared (IIR) seekers. Turkish officials did not disclose the SIPER’s range, but it will likely be around 100 km.

Turkey started the SIPER program following the collapse of its deal to purchase the HQ-9 due to pressure from NATO in 2015. While Ankara ultimately shunned NATO’s concerns by ordering the S-400 from Russia, it went ahead with an indigenous long-range SAM program. In 2018, Turkey’s top munitions manufacturer Roketsan, electronics vendor Aselsan, and R&D arm TÜBİTAK SAGE officially partnered to start the SIPER.

Comment: Time is Rewarding Turkey’s Vision

Turkey typically follows one road to localizing weapon systems. It starts with it initially seeking or buying a marquee Western weapon, but due to political issues, the supplier pulls its commitment.

In turn, Turkey promises itself and the world that it will develop its own solution. These declarations are often met with skepticism, especially from analysts and observers from outside of Turkey. From that point on, Turkey rallies its domestic state-owned and private sector contractors to develop subsystems and key inputs. Eventually, some years later, Turkey announces a major milestone (such as a test) and, as if out of nowhere, it seems that Turkey suddenly have a major indigenous weapon.

Unfortunately, those who do not follow Turkish defence development miss out on the years of work that Turkish companies undertake to reach key milestones. Publications such as Defence Turkey, MSI Turkish Defence Review, and others document that there are layers upon layers of R&D activities driving Ankara’s key programs. With consistent investment, implicit trust in civilian-led R&D centres, delegation to private sector players, and time, Turkey’s defence programs are materializing in spades.

These successes compound upon one another. The SIPER, for example, is the culmination of the work that Turkey did for its HİSAR-A and HİSAR-O-series of SAMs. While the HİSAR are short and medium-range SAM systems, Roketsan undertook years of work to design the DPMR. The knowledge it generated through its DPMR work (e.g., motor technology, solid fuel research, etc) fed the SIPER program. With time and further investment, the work that went into the SIPER could translate into an even longer-ranged SAM later.

In fact, the developmental track is also driving the innovation of very short-range SAMs too. For example, Turkey recently introduced the Roketsan SUNGUR into service. The SUNGUR is a next-generation design to cover Turkey’s MANPAD and compact-deployment requirements. It draws on Roketsan’s DPMR work, uses the foldable fin/stabilizer studies, and leverages Aselsan’s wider guidance and IIR technologies. The SUNGUR improves on the Stinger on multiple fronts, i.e., its range, fire-and-forget reliability, success-rate, and seeker resiliency against countermeasures.

Interestingly, Turkey is now moving to apply the SUNGUR to a naval-based point-defence missile system (PDMS). Turkey is basically building its own equivalent to the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM).

Aselsan LEVENT. Photo Source: Ibrahim Sunnetci

The same is true for the guidance and seeker stacks. In fact, Turkey’s development in this area covers both SAM applications and air-to-air missiles (AAM). Yes, the guidance and seeker stacks across the applications are not identical, but there are still fundamental commonalities between an ARH for an AAM and ARH for a SAM. So, not only has Turkey been carrying out years of R&D on ARH technologies for different systems, but by pushing for a diversity of applications, it is also generating economies-of-scale.

Like China, Turkey could achieve a steep incline in its armament development. However, unlike China, the Turks have to contend with two major bottlenecks or constraints. First, Turkey’s domestic requirements are not enough to produce sufficient economies-of-scale for every program, especially large-scale projects such as next-generation fighter aircraft (NGFA). China does not have this constraint. Second, Turkey does not have as deep of a well for funding as China. So, while Turkey can theoretically develop technology, it is not a superpower, so it cannot do it independently across every area.

The only avenue for Turkey to sustain its virtuous cycle of growth is to add partners to help with funding and drive more economies-of-scale. Thus, countries such as Pakistan, Qatar, Algeria, and others can gain valuable expertise and capacity by partnering with Turkey. Granted, these partners would need to discuss terms for IP ownership, production rights, and other issues, but this is not insurmountable. Europe’s main defence vendors (e.g., Airbus), are built on such partnerships. The opportunity to partner and grow is all there, but it is unlikely that Pakistan et.al are on the same page from a mindset standpoint (e.g., implicitly trusting the private sector or civilian engineering leaders) as Turkey to collaborate.

Analysis: Turkey is Building an Indigenous Integrated Air Defence Stack

Once available, Turkey will integrate the SIPER and HİSAR-A/O-series into an integrated air defence system (IADS). This would deliver short-range, medium-range, and medium-to-long-range anti-air coverage. The Turks will use indigenous radars, data-links, and command-and-control systems to tie the SAMs together.

Looking at the range coverages and capabilities of these SAMs, it seems that Turkey wants to ensure that its ‘baseline’ is indigenous and secure. So, the Turkish SAMs may not be the longest-ranged systems in its inventory, nor the most versatile ones (at least in the short-term). However, the Turkish SAMs will provide enough coverage to deter the majority of threats from harming Turkish land and sea-based assets.

However, because Turkey built an indigenous R&D base to create these SAMs, it can continue to reinvest in its foundation to extend the range and capabilities of these missiles. Thus, more sophisticated systems, such as Hit-to-Kill, anti-ballistic missiles (ABM), and dual-seekers, are only a matter of time.

From a design standpoint, it will be interesting to see how Turkey models its SAM deployment, especially from naval warships. Given its exposure to Western technology concepts and deployment doctrines, one can reasonably expect Turkey to emulate U.S. or European models.

Practically, this would involve the development of a scalable, standardized vertical-launch system (VLS) to deploy the SIPER and HİSAR-A/O in one suite. In fact, Turkey could even extend this further so as to include its future surface-launched land-attack cruise missile (LACM) too.

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