The sensational Russian-Turkish deal on S-400 air defence systems has been well on track despite unprecedented U.S. opposition. Will it be a turning point for the contract parties, USA, NATO and Middle East? Let’s have a look at what is going on and what could be the consequences.
The S-400 long range air defence system is an extensive modification of the S-300PMU. The system is in serial production by the Almaz-Antey Concern. It is in operational service with the Russian Armed Forces since April 2007.
The system has impressive features which were demonstrated in a number of test firings. The system radars can trace all types of flying objects in heights from 5 m up to 37 km at distances of up to 600 km. Aerodynamic targets can be engaged at a distance of up to 400 km while the ballistic missiles with a flying speed up to 4,800 m/sec will be engaged at a distance of up to 60 km. The system employs a variety of missiles to be efficient at a large scale of distances from 40 to 400 km to provide a multi-layered defence. In Russia S-400 has operated together with the Buk-family medium range and Pantsir-S close range air defence systems but it can be integrated into other national air defence systems as well.
The S-400 Triumph is an export version of the S-400. It was first delivered to China according to the 2015 contract for a sum of US$3 billion. Turkey is the second foreign customer to receive this deadly weapon as the components delivery started on July 12. The Republic of India signed a contract for delivery of five regiments to be delivered between 2020 and 2023. According to media reports, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iraq as well as Morocco and Vietnam have expressed the intention to obtain Triumphs as well. The Republic of Belarus received 2 batteries of S-400 for free as part of military-technical co-operation within the Unified State with Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
Anyway, the S-400 sale to Turkey stands out. The Eurasian Republic is not just a key U.S. partner – being the only NATO member in the Middle East – but also a strong participant in the F-35 programme. According to official U.S. sources, the Turkish industrial involvement within this 5th generation aircraft is substantial. Alp Aviation produces over 100 details for the airframe and F135 engine. Ayesas is the only source for the missile remote interface and panoramic cockpit display. Fokker Elmo provides the engine components and over 30% of the electric wiring. Kale Aerospace provides components for the airframe and landing gear. ROKETSAN and Tubitak-SAGE are to develop the advanced precision-guided Stand-Off Missile (SOM-J). Turkish Aerospace is a crucial partner of Northrop Grumman in the fuselage production and a variety of composite components plus 45% of the Alternate Mission Equipment (AME). And Havelsan has been responsible for the future Integrated Pilot and Maintenance Training Center (IPMTC). Finally, Turkey was licensed by Pratt & Whitney to build its own F135 engines and supply lots of components for the European production chain. To summarise, the total amount of money yet to be received by the Turkish companies over the F-35 JSF programme has been estimated as $12 billion.
U.S. officials have already made numerous statements that Turkey won’t remain in the JSF programme if the S-400 purchase comes into effect. So far, Washington has made the first steps: Turkish pilots were expelled from the F-35 training programme and there was an announcement to search for new suppliers for the F-35 components, although the possible replacement may result in delay of 50-75 aircraft from 2+ years.
Then why did Turkey and namely President Recep Tayyip Erdogan enter into such a confrontation with the U.S. and what might be the possible outcome?
The most important question is why Turkey has been so stubborn to insist on this deal? The answer is clear: Turkey and Erdogan want to have a U.S.-independent strategic air defence and this is more vital than any financial losses. One can leave apart personal feelings of the Turkish leader who may have felt humiliated by the U.S. position during and after the 2016 coup d’etat attempt, where the U.S. showed open support to his enemy Fethullah Gülen. Erdogan has proven that he is a pragmatic politician able to step over any personal problems. The S-400 acquisition is an instrument to provide defence for the Turkish Army and vital objects in case of the conflict with Kurds or Israel, both U.S. allies, temporary or perennial.
The Kurdish question is a Damocles Sword for Turkey. The Treaty of Sevre in 1920 claimed the Kurdish state foundation. The treaty was replaced in 1923 by the Treaty of Lausanne but remained a visible sign that Western powers could support Kurdish separatism if they find it useful. The matter had been forgotten until recently when the Kurds became U.S. allies in the civil war in Syria. Turkey plays its own game in the conflict, but the independent Kurdish quasi-state is a nightmare for Ankara.
So the S-400 contract will be realised in favour of Turkey and Russia who receives $2.5 billion. Both sides seem to circumvent U.S. sanctions to ban the dollar trade for Russian arms trade by using national currencies.
Let us now answer the questions we have started with. Will Ankara become a Russian ally instead of NATO? Definitely not, at least not for decades.
Will the deal become a sign of the new situation in the Middle East? To a certain extend, yes, as it clearly marks the limits of U.S. power in the region.
Will Turkey be rejected from the F-35 JSF programme? Probably not. Turkey is too important for the U.S. due to its strategic position in the region. On the other hand, being expelled from the F-35 programme may push Ankara for other sources of a new generation aircraft like China and Russia and that could be a more painful slap in Uncle Sam’s face, as Russia has already confirmed its intention to offer the Su-57 as a JSF substitute.
It looks like the U.S. has stumbled in the trap from which they will have to find a way out.
In any case, the reputation losses have already happened with more to follow.