URGENT CABLE – Turkey is likely to reach a final agreement with Russia to purchase S-400 long-range air missile defense systems, according to Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Işık. ”Turkey certainly needs a missile defense system and started a program with the aim of developing our domestically produced system. This program takes time, thus we have held negotiations with different countries to fulfill Turkey’s urgent requirement and it seems as though Russia is the most suitable candidate for fulfilling the country’s need at the moment,” Minister Işık said in a televised interview on Wednesday, according to Daily Sabah.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Feb. 21 that negotiations for the S-400 air defense missile system with Russia are “continuing positively.” The negotiations for defense cooperation can be traced back the bilateral re-rapprochement in August 2016, after months before the two countries were at the highest level of hostilities since the Cold War – as a consequence of the downing of the Su-24 Russian jet that violated the Turkish airspace. In response to the downing of the jet, Russia deployed the S-400 missiles in northern Syria in late-2016, to deter further Turkish attacks.
”I believe that they [NATO] will understand Turkey’s decision [to purchase S-400s] and will empathize,” Minister Işık said. ”Even some [other] NATO members have been using systems purchased from countries outside of NATO,” he added. Presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın echoed the same views. Speaking to members of the press on Feb.22, Kalın said that he does not expect Turkey’s decision to buy Russian systems to cause controversy in the NATO, noting: ”In this field we have three criterion which are price, technology transfer and time of delivery. As a sovereign state, we can cooperate with any country that fulfills these requirements,” Kalın said, ”There are several NATO countries that already use non-NATO systems. So we don’t expect any controversy to erupt within NATO.”
In fact, the compatibility and integration of non-NATO systems into the NATO infrastructure is a matter of growing interest, though it seems neither NATO nor Russia wants to integrate the defense system into NATO’s infrastructure due to concerns about infiltration of technology. Minister Işık indicated that Turkey may use these non-NATO systems without integration. ”When you integrate these [S-400] systems into NATO, you may have a chance to use them with the wide NATO infrastructure, but it’s also possible to use them without integration,” Işık said.
The Turkish airspace has remained largely unguarded after the United States and Germany pulled-out their Patriot anti-air missiles in 2015 after a reassessment of threats coming from Syria. Through the “Active Fence” mission, Germany, the U.S and the Netherlands all deployed Patriots in early 2013 after Turkey asked its fellow NATO partners for help in protecting its territory amid an escalating civil war in Syria. The Dutch ended their mission earlier 2015 and were replaced by the Spanish.
“The United States and NATO are committed to supporting Turkey’s security and regional stability,” the U.S.-Turkish statement said. “If needed, the United States is prepared to return Patriot assets and personnel to Turkey within one week.” Although it’s return never came.
Strategic Meaning? The Greek precedent
In the past, Cyprus bought Russian-made weaponry, the S-300 which it secretly transferred to Greece, another NATO member. Athens stationed the interceptor system on the island of Crete, where it had been activated during joint drills between the Greek and Israeli air forces in April-May 2015, confirmed by Reuters. The activation allowed Israel’s warplanes to test how the S-300’s lock-on system works, gathering data on its powerful tracking radar and how it might be blinded or bluffed. Through this way Israel has quietly tested ways of defeating an advanced air-defence system that Russia has deployed in the Middle East and that could limit Israel’s ability to strike in Syria or Iran, military and diplomatic individuals said for the same source.
We can only assume that key NATO members also tested the S-300 system and found ways to evade it. A similar reason could be behind a future order of an S-400 from Russia.
However, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that there are concerns in the West that Russia will plant a secret code in the system that will provide Moscow with remote control and prevent any use of the S-400 against Russian planes or missiles. Consequently, military intelligence could cease to be shared between the allies and Turkey.
Russia has sold the air-defence system to China and India. The technology is new and is believe to be especially direct against advanced stealth fighters and bombers, such as the B-2, F-22 or F-35. Yet, the last, is custom made through its design and capabilities to avoid such systems, however many experts to believe that an S-400 system to successfully hit the F-35 but only at a very close range, under 50 km -which is circumstantially unlikely.
Developed by Almaz-Antey Central Design Bureau, the SA-21 has been in service with the Russian military since 2007, and its also known by its NATO codename of SA-21 “Growler,”. The system is capable of engaging 80 airborne targets at once, as far as 250 miles (400 km) away, at an altitude of up to 30 km. Iran is also expected to buy the weapon in the near future, yet the Israeli Air Force has already been equipped with stealth multi-role F-35. These systems are mobile, so they can move at relatively short notice. The element of Electronic Warfare (EW) is also rumored to play a decisive factor in the weapon’s capability.