The new centre covers 11 countries across southern Europe.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for Southeast European Times -- 26/08/13
Anders Fogh Rasmussen (left), secretary general of NATO, is welcomed to Ankara by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in April 2011. [AFP]
A new NATO combined air and space operations center (CAOC) for southern Europe will help Turkey strengthen its air defences at a time when the country's risk perception has heightened as a result of increased turbulence in the Middle East and Syria, according to analysts.
Based in the north east of Madrid, the newly upgraded operations center was declared officially operational at the Torrejon de Ardoz airbase last month.
The centre will monitor and control the airspace of 11 NATO countries, including Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Albania.
The Torrejon centre is one of two centres. Like its twin in northern Europe, located in the German town of Uedem, it will be responsible for the planning, direction, co-ordination and supervision of air operations, a NATO statement said.
The centre will be capable to identify military and civilian aircraft that enter assigned airspace without authorisation or to deviate from their planned route, according to officials.
"That has been an area of vulnerability for Turkish defence as clearly demonstrated lately when Ankara asked for NATO assistance to defend itself against the potential use of ballistic missiles from Syria," Sinan Ulgen, head of the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, told SETimes.
At Turkey's request, NATO provided batteries of Patriot missile defence systems and troops to operate them. The systems were installed along Turkey's border with Syria.
Ulgen described the co-ordinated centre as "a welcome development for Turkey."
Sixteen NATO nations will fill the authorised 185 posts and operate the centre. The facility will co-ordinate with 26 military air bases.
By consolidating these operations, NATO "proceeded to an integration of the national airspaces' control, in order to cover the extended areas of the Northern African and Mediterranean countries, and of course to save money for other regional and global operations," said Dr. Athanasios Drougos, an Athens-based military analyst specialising in NATO issues, who lectures at Greece's military academy.
"NATO, by abrogating the air headquarters in Izmir (Turkey) and the CAOC-7 in Larisa-Greece, will get a better control and a clearer air picture over the Aegean and will cover any sensitive and delicate issues with more allied perspective and a less subregional one, from Ramstein and Torrejon," he told SETimes.
Regarding regional security considerations, the new structure of the allied air operations would "be considered as much wider, elastic, and offer various options from Azores to the borders with Iran, Iraq and the Gulf," Drougos said.
Back in Ankara, analysts including retired Army Colonel Serdar Erdurmaz from the Turkish Centre for Strategic Analysis agree that the new structure is designed from forward to rear according to the threat perception, "which is out of NATO area, Northern Africa and Middle East, Iran and Syria …"
He said, the establishment of an airbase headquarters is Spain related NATO's new concept, "which most highly Turkey agrees with."
"The alliance must coordinate its position and turns its face to the new threat," he told SETimes.
The missile defence system that NATO is deploying in Europe is part of the Torrejon centre's responsibility, officials said.
How do you think this new system will make nations in southern Europe safer? Share your thoughts below.