Parts for the much talked-about Patriot missiles arrived in Turkey on Tuesday, a spokesman for the country says.
NATO countries have pledged a total of six Patriot missile batteries and hundreds of troops in a support role. They will bolster the NATO force in place to protect Turkish territory from Syrian missile attacks.
The Turkish ambassador to the United States told reporters Tuesday that the equipment has begun to arrive. He could not confirm which pieces have been received, or how long it will be until the batteries are operational, but experts believe it could only be a matter of days.
"Some parts of it have started coming this morning, they have reached Turkey," said Ambassador Namik Tan at a breakfast meeting.
There are six main components to a Patriot battery, explains Theodore Postol, an expert in missile technology at MIT.
Radar equipment provides intelligence on the surrounding area and potential targets. A mobile control center roughly the size of a five-ton truck holds three people to monitor the air defense, and is sealed against chemical and biological agents. There is a power generation unit, also housed in a truck.
A collection of mounted antennae serves as "vertical communications nests," says Postol. This allows the battery to communicate with other Patriot teams and prevents firing at the same target.
The last components are the interceptor missiles themselves, loaded in canisters, and the launchers on which they are mounted. All of this equipment can be loaded onto C-130 cargo planes to be deployed throughout the globe.
"It's kind of a circus," Postol says.
Tan said Tuesday the Patriot batteries would be used only for defensive missions, in coordination with NATO oversight. He would not say whether the batteries would fire across the Syrian border in anticipation of a strike on Turkish soil.
"These will be used in a situation where Turkey is attacked," he says.
When asked whether Turkey would request additional resources from NATO, the ambassador said, "We have consulted enough," and added that Turkish defense needs had been met.
The United States, Germany and the Netherlands all pledged two batteries each. Germany and the United States plan to send 400 troops to serve in a support role. The Netherlands deployed 360.
It is unclear which equipment specifically has arrived in Turkey, though a Defense Department spokesman confirms it is not from the United States.
"We will start to move personnel and equipment soon. We're anticipating the U.S. systems and personnel being in place by mid-January, if all goes as planned," the spokesman tells U.S. News. The 400 personnel the military plans to send will include system operators, intelligence and maintainers, he says.
Turkish news site NationalTurk.com reports a "bundle" of German troops and officials arrived in Turkey early Tuesday morning via cargo plane to set up equipment roughly 120 miles from the southern border with Syria.
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Paul D. Shinkman is a national security reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated 12/18/2012: Comment added from the Defense Department.