ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey expects to receive its first Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles in 2019, Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli said on Wednesday, the first time Ankara has given a firm timeline for a deal that has alarmed its NATO allies.
Turkey has been in negotiations with Russia to buy the S-400 for more than a year, a decision seen by Washington and some of its other allies in NATO as a snub to the Western military alliance.
Giving the most detail yet on the deal to parliament’s budget committee, Canikli said it called for delivery of two S-400 systems, but that the second one was optional.
The deal has raised concern among NATO countries in part because the weapons cannot be integrated into the alliance’s defences. Ankara has said it had no choice but to buy the Russian missiles, because NATO countries did not offer a cost-effective alternative.
“Once these systems are received, our country will have secured an important air defence capability. This solution aimed at meeting an urgent need will not hinder our commitment to developing our own systems,” he said.
Relations between Turkey and Russia deteriorated sharply over years during which they backed opposite sides in the war in neighbouring Syria, but have improved markedly over the past year. The countries are now cooperating on Syrian peace efforts.
Canikli said Turkey was also in talks with the Franco-Italian EUROSAM consortium on developing its own missile defence systems, after signing a memorandum to strengthen cooperation between the three countries in defence projects.
“With the memorandum in question, Turkish, French and Italian firms have started cooperation to identify, develop, produce and use a more advanced version of the SAMP-T (missile system) in a common consortium,” he said.
Turkey aimed to bring talks with EUROSAM to a “definitive end” soon, he said, adding that Ankara aimed to finalise the deal by the end of 2017 at the latest.
Turkey has been working to develop its own defence systems and equipment, and has lined up several projects for the coming years, including combat helicopters, tanks, drones and more.
Canikli said Turkey received bids last Friday for the production of 500 Altay battle tanks, of which 250 are optional.
Shares of Turkish commercial and military vehicle producer Otokar rose almost 3 percent following the news about the 7 billion euro ($8.24 billion) domestic tank project.
Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler and Peter Graff