Aerial Warfare

Turkey and Greece to Join German-led European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI)

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Turkey and Greece to Join German-led European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI)

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Diehl IRIS-T air-defense system
Diehl IRIS-T air-defense system

Turkey and Greece have officially joined the European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI), further strengthening the collaborative effort led by Germany to fortify Europe’s air defense capabilities. The announcement was made on February 15 during a NATO defense ministers summit in Brussels, where German, Greek, and Turkish defense ministers revealed this strategic move. The ESSI, initiated by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in August 2022, aims to streamline joint procurement of air defense capabilities across Europe and enhance the interoperability of systems. The total number of participating countries has now reached 21, highlighting the growing commitment to addressing European vulnerability against potential threats, particularly those resembling the attacks Russia launched on Ukrainian infrastructure.

German Air Force MIM-104 Patriot
German Air Force MIM-104 Patriot. (Photo by Bundeswehr)

Responding to this initiative, the German parliament recently authorized a substantial investment of nearly €4 billion ($4.3 billion) for the purchase of the Israeli Arrow-3 anti-ballistic missile system, signaling a concrete step towards achieving the ESSI’s goals. Chancellor Scholz, who expressed his hope for the plan’s full development within five years back in December 2022, emphasized the urgency of bolstering European defenses. The inclusion of Turkey and Greece in the ESSI comes at a crucial juncture, just days after former U.S. President Donald Trump criticized NATO partners for not meeting spending goals. NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoan? praised the initiative, stating, “This helps translate allied commitments on defense spending into tangible capabilities available for our collective defense,” highlighting the clear commitment of European allies to fair burden sharing.

Arrow 3  exoatmospheric hypersonic anti-ballistic missile.
Arrow 3 exoatmospheric hypersonic anti-ballistic missile. (Photo by Israel Aerospace Industries )

It is important to note that the ESSI architecture operates independently of NATO and includes neutral countries like Austria and Switzerland, both of which joined the initiative in mid-2023. Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler emphasized that Turkey’s accession is a significant step towards fulfilling NATO’s requirements, expressing readiness to contribute national resources to the initiative. The ESSI’s mission involves constructing a ground-based integrated European air defense system with anti-ballistic missile capabilities. Currently, nineteen European states are actively participating, with Greece and Turkey set to formalize their membership in 2024. The multi-layered defense system includes the IRIS-T SLM for medium-range, MIM-104 Patriot for long-range, and Arrow 3 for very long-range (exoatmospheric) defense. The German Chancellor’s hope for full development within the next five years underscores the ongoing commitment to strengthening Europe’s collective defense against evolving threats.

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