ANKARA, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) -- Facing the growing threats in an increasingly volatile region in the Middle East, Turkey has increased its defense expenditures to boost its military capabilities while turning to its international partners including China to procure urgently-needed defense assets.
According to the government draft budget submitted to the parliament and currently being debated, the overall budget earmarked for security, defense and intelligence for 2013 reached 45.3 billion Turkish Lira (some 25.2 billion U.S. dollars), 16 percent increase compared to 2012. The parliament is expected to approve the budget early December.
The government's decision to beef up Turkish military came amid ongoing uncertainties in Syria and Iraq, two neighboring countries of Turkey, as well as growing hostilities between the West and Iran over the latter's controversial nuclear program.
"I think Turkey wants to make a point that its options are not just limited with the Western suppliers," Emre Soncan, a defense- military expert, told Xinhua over the phone.
"There is also an element that Russian defense articles come with less strings attached as opposed to the United States where the Congress can hinder or delay the acquisition of defense technology and can easily challenge U.S. administration decision to go ahead with the deal," he explained.
Other contenders for long range air defense system are American Raytheon and Lockheed Martin with the Patriot missiles, Russia's Rosoboronexport with its S-400 system and Italian-French Eurosam with its SAMP/T Aster.
A government official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that Turkey is determined to acquire long-range missile defense systems, quelling speculations that Turkey gave up on the tender.
"We are very much keen on acquiring this defense capability and may even push it for early delivery for the winning company, possibly within a year," he said.
In the meantime, to fill the gap in its air defense capabilities until it acquires own systems, Turkey has turned to the NATO to deploy missile defense elements on its border with Syria to boost its air defense systems.
On Wednesday, Ankara officially asked for the deployment, fearing that the situation on its border could deteriorate rapidly.
Turkey has been talking to NATO allies about how to shore up security on its 911 km border with Syria after mortar rounds landed inside its territory, increasing concerns about the civil war spilling into the neighboring states.
The deployment of Patriot batteries will enhance Turkish military's deterrence capabilities.
"The Patriot missile system is largely defensive in nature and seems to be aimed at deterring the Syrian regime from using any sort of weapon against Turkey in a potentially last-minute desperation situation" Suat Kiniklioglu, director of the Ankara- based Center for Strategic Communication (STRATIM) said.
A joint team will visit Turkey next week to conduct a site survey for the possible deployment of the Patriots.
The First Gulf War in 1991 revealed an urgent need for a long- range air defense system in the face of the threat posed by Iraq's Scud missile system. NATO sent the Patriot air defense system to Turkey to meet its defense needs during the Gulf War in 1991 and the Iraq War in 2003.
Turkey has also agreed to host an X-band radar system at a military base in Kurecik as part of a NATO-backed missile shield designed to protect NATO's European members from growing threats of ballistic missiles.
The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) do not currently have a long- range surface-to-air (SAM) platform in their stock. Turkey currently possesses Rapier and Stinger rocket launchers for its short-range air defense system. In addition, the American-made Hawk PIP III missile system is currently in service, providing medium-range and low-to-medium range defense against various targets and threats.
Turkey is working on a project to manufacture its first domestically developed ballistic missile.
The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey ( TUBITAK) is working on developing a missile known as "SOM," with a range of 300 km with an ultimate goal to attain missiles with a range of 2,500 km.
In September, Science Minister Nihat Ergun said "We have finalized the tests and Turkey is ready to commence mass production of these missiles in a short while."
The local content ratio in Turkey -- the extent to which defense system requirements are met locally -- had risen to 52 percent from 25 percent over the past decade. Turkey has increased the budget allocated for research and development in the defense industry to 670 million dollars in 2013 from 50 million in 2012.