(PM) – In defiance of sustained U.S. pressure, the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday announced that Turkey will move ahead with the $2.4 Billion dollar purchase of the S400 missile system. The missile system is widely considered the crown jewel of the Russian air-to-air arsenal, in apparent defiance of warnings by the U.S. that the Russia-Turkey sale could be “deeply problematic”.
The S400 missile system
The S400 missile system is a long-range state-of-the-art advanced mobile air-to-air missile system that can be used to engage targets including aircraft, drones and cruise missiles. It can even shoot down incoming ballistic missiles, giving it an Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) role as well. Some reports indicate it can also be used to target ground forces. All these capabilities, as well as its lower cost as compared to western alternatives, make it the preferred anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic missile SAM for many nations.
However, being a Russian system has its downsides primarily dealing with the fact that the United States does not want its allies to incorporate advanced Russian weapons systems alongside U.S. advanced aircraft, such as the 5th-generation F-35 Lightning II. Turkey was to receive one hundred F-35s as part of a deal with the United States. This deal was brokered when Turkey agreed to invest in the F-35’s research and development, as well as build parts for it. Turkey was one of the very few nations in the world to get the advanced stealth fighter. The U.S. is reluctant to hand over the aircraft to Turkey. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Turkey “must choose” between remaining in the deal or risk the security of the partnership “by making reckless decisions”.
U.S. espionage concerns
The U.S. fears that with the integrations of both the S400 and the F-35 into Turkey’s defense structure, the Russians could employ espionage and gain crucial insight into the exact capabilities of the fighter jet. This can help Russia find out how to defeat or counter the aircraft and also intercept U.S. communications. Furthermore, the missile system could not be integrated with other existing Turkish air defense systems. Also, it can’t be integrated with NATO’s air defense umbrella.
Due to these factors, the U.S. has halted the sale of the F-35s to Turkey. The U.S. announced that by mid-June, Turkey must cancel the deal with Russia and buy the U.S. Raytheon-built Patriot missile systems. If Turkey doesn’t do this, the U.S. will remove Turkey from the F-35 program and impose sanctions on them.
According to multiple sources in the U.S. state department, this will be the final warning given to Turkey. Russia describes the U.S. ultimatum as unacceptable.
The U.S. has been pushing for Turkey to consider buying its Patriot missile system instead of the Russian-made S400. However, there is little incentive for Turkey to do so. The S400 system costs around $400 million whereas the Patriot system costs close to a billion dollars. The newer variants of the S400 trumping over the Patriot with respect to accuracy, efficiency, reliability, and effectiveness.
Turkey, nonetheless, announced plans to send its officers to Russia to train them on the capabilities and operations of the S400 system. They also announced a partnership with Russia for the ‘joint-production” of the S500 next-generation missile system, the successor to the S400. Turkey even appears to have built a concrete launch facility that fits the profile of the S400. This was confirmed by open source high-resolution satellite imagery.
Turkey is now in preparation for possible U.S. sanctions. The Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar stated that Turkey “is making necessary preparations for what to do if the case comes to” the U.S. imposing sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). These potential sanctions bar U.S. allies from doing business with Russian state and private defense companies.
The U.S. does not seem to be losing hope for Turkey to still change its mind. The U.S. submitted a new proposal for the Patriot missile system with better price, technology transfer options, co-production and technological updates as incentives. This comes a day after Kremlin officials termed the Turkey-Russia sale as “irrevocable”. Even France has jumped in the arena, with the French Defense Minister proposing deploying French Samp-T air defense systems on the Turkish borders.
The Turkish president called out the U.S.’s bluff saying “Sooner or later, we will receive the F-35s. (The U.S.) not delivering them is not an option.”
The Turkish Vice President on Twitter wrote “The United States must choose. Does it want to remain Turkey’s ally or risk our friendship by joining forces with terrorists to undermine its NATO ally’s defense against its enemies?”. Turkey faces threats from Kurdish militants and Islamist fundamentalists on its border regions.