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Turkey at the Crossroads: S-400 Acquisition #TurkeyRussia

The Turkish government approved plans in 2006 to build a medium- to long-range air defence systems against missile attacks, called Turkish Long Range Air Missile Defence System T-LORAMIDS, and invited countries/ companies to participate under varying terms.

Turkey’s expectations have also evolved as the program progress started as an acquisition program and turned into a technology transfer program. The China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPIMIEC) was announced as the initial winner of the program as the company offered the lowest price. It was then revealed that CPIMIEC was not willing to provide technology transfer to Turkey, the NATO had oppositions against the Chinese systems due to security risks.  US restrictions to Turkish companies doing business with CPIMIEC as a black listed were also on agenda. The project failed. Now Turkey hopes to produce its own air defence system. A mix solution is preferred; acquiring off the shelf systems and through technology transfer to Turkish companies ASELSAN and ROKETSAN.

Air defence is a multidisciplinary system consisting of different types of defence systems providing protection against different types of threats at different altitudes. No system is completely successful at every layer of the operation theatre. All have different advantages and disadvantages. S-400 is not an exception to this. However its strengths cause other strategic drawbacks and they make the installation in Turkey even more difficult. The Disadvantages are;


Integration of S-400 with network system is a necessity.  S-400 has its own weakness like all other systems. There are other air defence systems to cover remaining defence needs. S-400 is for long distance targets while others provide security for targets flying at low altitude as an example. In other words S-400 will provide protection against long range, high altitude targets but a short range system would provide the security of the S-400 launcher system. The first problem that we will mention throughout this article is; integration.  S-400 system will need to communicate with early warning AWACS aircraft as well as NATO air defence systems. Such a problem can only be solved by integrating Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system to S-400 systems.  IFF is NATO’s one most critical system that provides systems security. Thanks to IFF, one can understand whether an airplane flying towards you is friend or hostile. Misuse or defeat of such a system means being vulnerable to any type of attack. NATO cannot provide its IFF to Russian systems, S-400 cannot fully operate without IFF system and Turkey cannot find a solution that will provide comfort to each part. Indigenous IFF can be only solution if it functions well.

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The price tag has always been an indicator for decision makers.  But the tag does not represent the whole system. An S-400 system can operate as a stand-alone launcher. It means, it will identify and track targets with its own radar system. In case it functions on its own, it is not effective for protection. If it is integrated to the existing NATO air defence radars, it would create certain risks . An alternative solution is to install radars that can provide independent information to S-400,  but it is costly.

Which technology?

S-400 has been in the Russian inventory since 2007. There are export versions of it as well. The actual question is, which export version will be installed in Turkey. The Powerful one will be subject to NATO’s spies inspection, the Weak one will not be satisfying as defence system. Russia, with this concern, indicated that a Russian officer will be in charge of radar systems.  In this case, whatever the version is, S-400 with its almost 600 km radar range will be successful at monitoring US-NATO İncirlik Air Base at Adana as well as Malatya Kürecik US-NATO Long range radar base.


Better defence


Turkey is currently engaged in acquiring Eurosam Block 30 Aster 1 system too. The system has 360 degree very powerful radar. It would not be appropriate to compare to different systems but we know that latter is good at engaging on targets that S-400 may not. This perspective provides a good reason for acquiring two systems.

Safety against all foreign aircraft

The system will make NATO member countries’ aircraft vulnerable in Turkey. It may function with third IFF mode. It is unclear whether it is a good thing but at least it is an option.

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According to recent reports, US plans to apply restrictions to Russian company Rosoboronexport, which would extend to Turkish companies.

Political Situation

Turkey stuck between NATO and Russia is forced to make a decision as NATO and US strongly opposes Turkey to acquire a Non NATO product.

Interoperability and radar facilities are considered strategic as they affect all NATO operations. Turkey, on other hand, states that they made a down payment for the system. Russia confirms the statement. It should be noted that down payment is not a common method.

The Defence Industry Executive Committee (SSIK) is the main decision maker on major defence procurements. The Committee is authorized to make critical decisions relating to defence industry issues and major defence procurements according to the Armed Forces Strategic Target Plan. Under such conditions S-400 acquisition requires the Committee decision. The committee is held today on Nov 2nd and no clear decision is announced. This development contradicts former information about the down payment indicating that payment has been made without SSIK decision.

We believe that Turkey should diversify its defence systems against different types of threats. S-400 with powerful version can be used for defence against threats at the highest level. As mentioned before, Turkey currently holds negotiations with Eurosam and a result is expected soon. Such system can be used for targets flying at high altitudes at medium range. Turkish ingenious systems Hisar and Korkut can be used against short range threats flying at low altitude. Such type of protection will be very effective but expensive.  It does not only require a high budget but also a government that can cope with pressure originating from NATO and NATO countries. When all consequences considered together, it would not be wrong claiming that S-400 air defence system drives Turkish decision makers to a crossroad for the future of country.

About The Author

Ozgur Eksi

Özgür Ekşi was born in 1969. He received his BA from University of Istanbul, on International Politics, MSc from University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), MA from University of Paris South XI, Centre Européen de Recherches Internationales et Stratégiques (CERIS). He speaks both French and English.He held various positions at Aktuel Magazine, NTV Television Channel, Milliyet Daily Newspaper, Turkish Daily News, Anatolian News Agency, Hürriyet Daily and Hürriyet Daily News between 1993-2012. Mr. Ekşi has been specialized in the defense industry since 2007.He currently holds the Deputy Editor in Chief position at C4Defence which is Turkey’s first and only online magazine in the defense sector. It is a monthly publication available in Turkish and English.

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