As mentioned on the RSS Facebook page, I came across an article prepared by Space Watch Middle East (See link below) that talked about the quest Turkey has for indigenous spacelift capability through the Roketsan company. While a private venture, the article states, it will be used for government purposes. As I read it, some observations came to mind, some of which I will share below.
First, the rocket shown in the video at the bottom of the article (see top video below and compare with Vega launch of Turkish satellite below it) looks a lot like the Vega rocket put out by Arianespace, so how much of this design is truly indigenous, I am not sure. Perhaps info transfer of information occurred during the time when Arianespace launched Turkish military satellites on Vega in 2016 (see video link below), or they just liked the look so much, they made a copy from photos? Either way, it looks a lot like a Vega.
Second thing I noticed, was more of a question: why would Turkey want to have an SLV when they can launch using their NATO partner nations…. especially given they are a signatory of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). MTCR was created to prevent the spread of missile technology that could be used to deliver weapons of mass destruction. Turkey signed on to this in 1997 and agreed like many who shelved their indigenous programs, to maintain the status quo of space access and missile providing nations. Given Turkey is a NATO member and falls under the security umbrella of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Charter, the USA would provide a nuclear umbrella with their ICBM forces, or could provide lift capacity for any Turkish military satellite. Or…as shown earlier, they could use one of the European providers.
Here is where things become a bit concerning. While the article above makes things seem like “Oh great, another nation state will have access to space…how awesome!” to strategic observers, this could be for other reasons. There have already been expressed concerns by NATO ambassadors in Europe that Turkey may be planning or already are circumventing ammunition provisions for indigenous production of warheads, as well as provisions of the vehicles covered by the MTCR itself. See the quote from an article below….
“In a recent speech, Science, Industry and Technology Minister Fikri Işık said Turkey would launch a “national” factory this year to produce its own “warheads, airplane bombs and plastic explosives.”
He said the new factory would end Turkey’s dependence on foreign suppliers of this type of ammunition.
The proposed production facility would be located adjacent to another ammunition factory operated by state-controlled weapons manufacturer MKE in the Central Anatolian province of Kırıkkale. It will produce 600 tons of plastic explosives, Işık said.
“The special production equipment used in ammunition factories are subject to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and buyers need permission from the producing countries to obtain these materials,” Işık said. “According to the international treaties Turkey is a signatory to, we have had to obtain export licenses from the supplier company’s country to meet our requirements for warheads and bombs. And we failed to meet our needs if the country in question did not allow its manufacturer. We aim to end this [problem] by producing [those items] ourselves.”
“The minister’s statement is not clear for many reasons. We are trying to understand if Turkey is planning to bypass the MTCR. If so, that would be worrying,” said one NATO defense attaché in Ankara.
Another NATO ambassador in Brussels expressed worry in a telephone interview. “We are not sure what kind of ammunition Turkey intends to produce at this new factory, and why it hopes to bypass the MTCR,” the envoy said.
“I understand Turkey is planning to produce the kind of warheads it did not produce before,” a London-based Turkey specialist said. “The MTCR is about the vehicle [missile], its range and the quantity of explosives it carries. The minister’s words can be interpreted in a way that Turkey may be targeting to exceed the limits specified in the treaty. This can be problematic for many countries.” “-end quote from article.
So given space launch systems that provide any orbital capability can also be dual use as a ICBM, and given concerns by many defense ministers and ambassadors in NATO about Turkish warhead production related to missiles and aircraft, one can see why some are concerned or should be concerned about the push for an independent launch vehicle that can be used for “government purposes”.
You might be asking, but Turkey is an ally, why should we be concerned by anything our allies do? Wouldn’t this be a good thing to add capability to NATO? Yes, it could be good, but, keep in mind the following. Turkey is not the same Turkey Europe has known and loved for decades. Its current President Erdogan, in some observers view, desires to be the new leader of global Islam and help restore the caliphate that Turkey was once a part of until 1924. They have a warming relationship with Iran, who is producing nuclear weapons, a budding relationship with Russia, both of which could aid in their production of nuclear and other WMD warheads to mate to missile systems. See the sample quote from an Iranian journalist….
“Erdogan, who embodies a combination of his predecessor Necmettin Erbakan in the realm of political Islam and his former partner Fethullah Gulen in the realm of ideological Islam, has been able to implement his own unique model of governance. This model has seen Turkey both continuing efforts to join the European Union while also seeking to develop relations with the East and regional and Islamic countries. Indeed, Erdogan has since the very beginning of his rule sought to establish closer ties with Iran”
So, could this be just Turkey wanting to launch satellites of their own into space? Maybe. Is there something to worry about? Maybe, or maybe not. However, given our experience with missile proliferators like North Korea and Iran, these powers tend to try and cover up ballistic missile tests as “space launch development.” Also, given recent rhetoric by Erdogan such as working to “make the West pay”, that bond between Turkey and Europe/USA seems a bit strained. This space launch program is certainly one to watch, for space reasons, but also for strategic reasons as well.