Turkey took delivery of several units of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft defence system last year, despite strong objections and threats of sanctions from the United States. It has been conducting operational tests of the new systems over the last few months, most recently from a location in northern Turkey adjacent to the Black Sea, sparking concern among neighbouring countries and others with a significant military presence in the region.
For the latest round of tests, in early October, S-400 units were transported to a location adjacent to the Black Sea, near the port of Sinop in northern Turkey.
The military news portal Defense News managed to confirm some of the details of the latest tests with a Turkish military official.
The S-400 will be tested at the Sinop test field, and the city’s civil aviation authorities have banned all flights between Sinop and Unyem, east of the test field, at an altitude of less than 25,000 feet.
Officials reported the S-400 will be fired eastward during the tests.
The batteries were transported to Sinop on eight-wheel drive military trucks. Military officials said a batch of 10 U.K.-made Banshee target drones were also transported to Sinop for the tests.
Turkey first tested the S-400 air defense system on American-made F-16 fighter jets in November [of last year]… LINK
Turkey’s possession of the state of the art Russian anti-air defence system has caused considerable concern among Turkey’s NATO allies as well as many of its neighbours.
The S-400 surface-to-air defence system is one of the most advanced in the world. Effective for medium to long-range targets, its radar can spot, track and target aircraft and missiles at a range of up to 400 kilometres.
Turkey had been trying for many years to acquire an effective air defence system, however Washington’s reluctance to sell the US Patriot air defence system to Turkey – along with the system’s questionable operational performance – persuaded Turkey to consider possible alternatives.
Finally, Turkey signed an agreement with Russia in 2017 to buy the S-400, with the first delivery of four missile batteries worth $2.5bn arriving in July 2019.
Turkey and Russia are reported to be negotiating the purchase of a second batch of S-400 batteries, either based on co-production or off-the-shelf purchase with technology transfer.
Turkey’s decision to buy the Russian air defence system has been roundly condemned by the US. Washington has suspended Turkey’s involvement in the US-led, multinational Joint Strike Fighter program that builds the F-35 fighter jet, and has also threatened to impose punitive sanctions against Turkey if it activated the air defence system.
Turkey had previously announced that it would activate the system in April 2020, however under intense pressure from its NATO allies, most notably the United States, Turkey quietly postponed the activation process for several months, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the first operational test in November 2019, Turkish F-16 and F-4 jets were tracked and targeted by S-400 units as they flew over the capital city in a simulated attack.
Earlier this month, unconfirmed media reports stated that in August of this year a Hellenic Air Force F-16 was tracked with the S-400’s radar while it was returning from a multinational military exercise, drawing strident complaints from Turkey’s NATO allies.
Following the reports of the alleged incident in August, a US State Department spokesman did not rule out the use of CAATSA provisions (the legislation providing the basis for sanctions against countries acquiring advanced Russian military equipment).
“We continue to object strenuously to Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 air defense system, and are deeply concerned with reports that Turkey is continuing its efforts to bring the S-400 into operation,” the State department spokesman said. “We continue to stress at the highest levels that the S-400 transaction remains a major obstacle in the bilateral relationship and at NATO, as well as a risk for potential CAATSA sanctions.” LINK
A report by Al Jazeera notes that the system’s potency and effective range of airspace coverage has caused a substantial shift in the regional balance of military forces:
This means that it could cover most of Syria. A battery placed at the border near Gaziantep, Turkey could engage aircraft as far away as Damascus and Beirut and could certainly reach any Russian aircraft taking off or landing at the Russian base in Khmeimim near Latakia, Syria.
A missile system that dominates an adversary’s air space is a potent weapon and can tip the strategic balance, making any military action on the ground more tempting.
However it is used, the S-400 has Turkey’s neighbours worried.
Greece, which operates an older version, the S-300, with little or no complaints from the US, is especially worried given it was a Greek fighter jet that the S-400 was tested on, as tensions simmer between the two NATO members.
The S-400 would allow Turkey to cover the whole of the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean.
This was precisely the objection Turkey had when Cyprus bought the S-300 in the late 1990s – that Cyprus would be able to dominate the airspace between itself and a large chunk of southern Turkey.
Greece was obliged to take the system and have it moved to the island of Crete in order to avoid military action by Turkey against the Republic of Cyprus.
Wherever these batteries are placed, the S-400 will have a destabilising effect due to its potency. LINK
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