Surface Forces: Turkish Delight

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February 21, 2022: Three years after Turkey began production of the new, locally designed, Atmaca anti-ship missile, the government decided to increase production to ten missiles a month so that Atmaca can replace all 350 American Harpoon missiles already installed on Turkish warships and do so by 2025. The decision to replace all the Harpoon missiles came after two years of tests that included using twenty missiles launched from several different ships. The first test launch from a ship took place at the end of 2019 and used an inert warhead. This was just to verify that all systems except guidance and warhead worked. In mid-2020 an Atmaca was tested with its guidance system to hit a target with an inert warhead at max range. A year ago, Atmaca was fired with a live warhead and hit its target. In mid-2021 Atmaca was successfully fired with a live warhead at a retired warship used as a target. This was the final certification test before mass production could begin. The recent decision to replace all Harpoon missiles was justified by the fact that a new Atmaca missile cost half as much as a new Harpoon.

What Turkey didn’t mention was that it would be a lot cheaper to upgrade those 350 Harpoon missiles than to replace them. Turkey has a potential problem with that because the United States has been withholding some new weapons tech from Turkey because Turkey has been purchasing Russian weapon systems in violation of NATO rules. Harpoon is currently used on nearly 700 warships and submarines as well as twelve different aircraft belonging to 31 different countries. The United States and foreign users are planning to replace their Harpoons with new missiles like the NSM (Naval Strike Missile) and LRSAM. There are currently over twenty different modern anti-ship missiles in use. Harpoon has the best track record of reliability and performance. For many export customers that is not crucial because it is widely known that few modern missiles are actually used in combat. Instead, they are well maintained and regularly upgraded for decades before finally being retired because the upgrades and maintenance are not able to match the latest designs.

The 800 kg (1,800 pound) Atmaca is similar to the U.S. Harpoon, but ten percent heavier and with a similar range of 200-250 kilometers. Atmaca has a 200 kg (440 pound) warhead. Turkish warships are equipped with the older Harpoon missile with a 124-kilometer range.

Atmaca uses GPS/INS guidance as well as radar for terminal guidance. The Atmaca electronics are built in Turkey and undergo upgrades from the Turkish manufacturers, especially for handling improved countermeasures. The initial version of Atmaca can also be used from land-based fixed and mobile (four missile launchers on a truck) and eventually, an air-launched version.

Originally Atmaca was to be used in new Turkish warships and other warships as they were due for refurbishment, a process that would take over a decade to replace all Harpoons. The decision to replace Harpoon within three years gives Turkey enough manufacturing capacity to actively seek export orders.

Harpoon was introduced in 1977 and over 7,500 have been built so far. Harpoon has more combat experience than any other anti-ship missile. Other nations, like China and Sweden, have designed and built comparable designs and Turkey was correct in believing its current defense industries could do the same. Turkish firms have also developed smart bombs and laser-guided missiles and are offering these for export. Turkey has been expanding its defense manufacturing capability. Turkey had already developed world-class aircraft maintenance and upgrade capabilities and has long produced artillery and infantry weapons. Turkey is especially competitive when it offers its weapons to other Moslem nations.

 


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