U.S. eyes $7.8 billion missile sale to Turkey

WASHINGTON Fri Sep 11, 2009 5:06pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration has notified Congress of a possible $7.8 billion sale of Patriot PAC-3 antimissile batteries and related gear to Turkey, the only NATO ally bordering Iran.

The sale would include 13 Patriot "fire units," 72 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles and a range of associated hardware for ground-based air defense, the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a notice made public Friday.

It estimated the cost at $7.8 billion, which would be one of the biggest U.S. government-to-government arms sales in years and would mark a return of Turkey as a major U.S. arms buyer.

Turkey would use the PAC-3 guided missiles to boost its missile-defense capability, strengthen its homeland defense and deter regional threats, the defense agency said.

"Turkey is a partner of the United States in ensuring peace and stability in the region," it said. "It is vital to the U.S. national interest to assist our North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability that will contribute to an acceptable military balance in the area."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Iran's leaders on July 26 that if they were seeking nuclear weapons, "your pursuit is futile," days after she raised the possibility of a U.S.-built "defense umbrella" over the Middle East to counter Iranian clout.

In separate notices to Congress released Friday, the Obama administration announced a potential $220 million artillery rocket sale to Jordan and a possible $187 million sale of F-16 fighter-carried weapons to Morocco.

The primary contractors for the Turkish sale would be Raytheon Co and Lockheed Martin Corp. The notice of a potential sale is required by law. It does not mean a sale has been concluded.

In the case of a NATO member such as Turkey, Congress has 15 days to block a proposed arms deal by passing a joint resolution of disapproval, though it never has stopped a sale once formally notified.

The proposed supply of the equipment to Turkey, along with U.S. logistical support, would not alter the basic military balance in the region, the notice to Congress said.

This would mark the first Turkish purchase of PAC-3 missiles, it said. It would reverse a Turkish trend away from U.S. arms purchases in recent years, said Soner Cagaptay, an expert on Turkey at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a nonpartisan research group.

Such a purchase would represent "a big consolidation of U.S.-Turkish military ties," he said.

The Patriot PAC-3 missile would provide Turkey some capability to defend against short-range Iranian SCUD missiles with a range of 500 kms to more than 800 kms, said Steven Hildreth, a missile-defense expert at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Iranian missiles are currently capable of reaching all of Turkey, Hildreth said.

Turkey's geostrategic importance for the United States depends partly on Incirlik Air Base, located near Adana in southeast Turkey. KC-135 refueling planes operating out of Incirlik have delivered more than 35 million gallons of fuel to U.S. warplanes on missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the research service said in a report last year.

Carol Migdalovitz, an expert on the country at the research service, said the proposed sale showed Turkey was hedging its bets on improved ties with Iran.

"While it has improved (bilateral) trade and energy ties, Turkey remains wary of Iran's nuclear program," she said.

(Reporting by Jim Wolf, editing by Matthew Lewis, Bernard Orr)

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