By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2013 - The first elements of U.S. Patriot missile batteries deployed to Turkey earlier this month are expected to reach initial operating capability this weekend, a senior NATO officer reported.
Plans are on track for two PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile systems and about 400 U.S. personnel deployed to operate them to begin providing missile defense in the coming days, British Army Brig. Gen. Gary Deakin, director of the strategic operations center at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Brussels, reported yesterday on NATO TV.
Members of the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command from Fort Bliss, Texas; 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery, based at Fort Sill, Okla.; and the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command and 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion in Europe deployed to Turkey earlier this month to support the mission. The 10th AAMDC will provide command and control for two Patriot missile batteries from the 32nd AAMDC.
"We are aiming for the first initial operating capability to be established this weekend," Deakin said.
"NATO will have the ability to defend some aspects of the population of what we're going to actually cover in the big picture," he explained during a news conference earlier this week. "The first units will arrive on station. They will plug into the NATO command and control network, and they will be then ready to defend the population. So that's what we're calling initial operating capability."
Meanwhile, four additional Patriot batteries from the Netherlands and Germany arrived by sea in Iskenderun, Turkey, earlier this week, he said. They are now fanning out to their designated sites along Turkey's southwest border.
The U.S. Patriots are in Gaziantep, the Dutch will position theirs in Adana, and the Germans in Kahramanmaras, Deakin reported.
"Those locations were decided in close coordination with our Turkish allies, based on the size of the population [and] how we could get the equipment to get the best effect," he said. "A number of factors were considered to get the best deployment options with the resources available from the nations that made the offers in this case."
The next milestone -- achieving full operational capability -- is expected by the month's end, Deakin said. This involves getting all six Patriot batteries in place, plugged into the NATO network and coordinated with Turkey's air defenses. It also includes the full roll-out of the associated sustainment package, consisting of the fuel, logistics and manpower support required to continue the mission long-term.
Once fully in place and at full operational capability, the NATO missile defense systems will help Turkey defend an estimated 3.5 million Turkish citizens, Deakin said.
Although the length of the NATO missile defense mission in Turkey is unclear, he said, all the three nations supporting it have committed assistance for up to a year.
NATO foreign ministers agreed in late November to provide Turkey the air defense support it had requested. The request came after shells from Syria's political unrest - which a new United Nations report estimated this week has claimed 60,000 lives -- spilled into Turkey.
"NATO has decided to augment Turkey's air defense capabilities in order to defend the population and territory of Turkey and contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along the alliance's border," the ministers said in a statement released following the meeting.
"Turkey is an important NATO ally, and we welcome the opportunity to support the Turkish government's request in accordance with the NATO standing defense plan," said Navy Vice Adm. Charles Martoglio, U.S. European Command's deputy commander.
Martoglio emphasized that the deployment will be defensive only, and won't
support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation.