BEIJING — From the moment Turkey announced plans two years ago to acquire a long-range missile defense system, the multibillion-dollar contract from a key NATO member appeared to be an American company's to lose.
For years, Turkey's military had relied on NATO-supplied Patriot missiles, built by the American companies Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, to defend its skies, and the system was fully compatible with the air-defense platforms operated by other members of the alliance.
There were other contenders for the deal, of course. Rival manufacturers in Russia and Europe made bids. Turkey rejected those — but not in favor of the American companies. Its selection last month of a little-known Chinese defense company, China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corporation, stunned the military-industrial establishment in Washington and Brussels.
The sale was especially unusual because the Chinese missile defense system, known as the HQ-9, would be difficult to integrate with existing NATO equipment. China Precision is also subject to sanctions from the United States for selling technologies that the United States says could help Iran, Syria and North Korea develop unconventional weapons. A State Department spokeswoman said this month that American officials had expressed to the Turkish government "serious concerns" about the deal, which has not yet been signed.
(Read more: China Becomes World's Fifth Largest Arms Exporter)