July 13, 2019

Turkey has just called Donald Trump’s bluff by going ahead with the purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles. The outrage in Washington is volcanic. Trump is vowing to rain fire and brimstone sanctions down on the disobedient Turks.

The S-400 is Russia’s premier anti-air missile. It is believed highly effective against all forms of aircraft – including stealth planes – cruise missiles, medium range ballistic missiles, drones, and some other types of missiles. It offers the choice of a self-directing version with its own radar seeker, or a less expensive, ‘semi-active’ version that is guided by its launch-battery radar.

What makes this AA missile (SS-21 in NATO terminology) particularly deadly is its remarkable 400 km range. The S-400 is said by Russia to be able to unmask stealth aircraft. I’ve been told by Soviet security officials as far back as 1990 that their radars could detect US stealth aircraft.

The missile’s remarkable range and detection capability puts at risk some of the key elements of US war fighting capability, notably the E-3 AWACS airborne radar aircraft, US electronic warfare aircraft, tankers and, of course, fighters like the new stealth F-35, improved F-15’s, F-22’s and B-1, B-2 and venerable B-52 heavy bombers used to carry long-ranged cruise missiles.

The Russian AA system can ‘shoot and scoot’ – firing and then quickly moving. Even more important, the S-400 system costs about half the price of its leading competitor, the US Patriot PAC-2 system. The S-400 may also be more reliable and accurate. The Great White Father in Washington is not happy.

The Trump administration brought heavy pressure on Turkey not to buy the S-400, threatening to cancel Turkey’s order for 100 of the new, stealthy F-35’s. Few thought the Turks would defy the US on this issue, but they failed to understand the depths of Turkey’s anger at the US.

Most Turks believe that the US engineered the failed 2016 coup against the democratic government in Ankara working through a shadowy religious organization run by the spiritual-political leader, Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the United States. Turkey’s elected president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had been too independent-minded for Washington, clashing over US policy to Syria and the Gulf. He had also incurred the wrath of America’s Israel lobby for demanding justice for the Palestinians.

Turkey is now under economic attack by Washington. President Trump is threatening sanctions (read economic warfare) against Turkey, an old, loyal US ally. During the Korean War, Turkish troops saved American soldiers from Chinese encirclement. But Turks are mostly Muslim, and Muslims are hated by Trump and his allies.

S-400 missiles are now arriving in Turkey. What will Trump do? Cancel sale to Turkey of the F-35 and other military equipment or spare parts. Threaten to oust Turkey from NATO. Get Israel and Greece to menace Turkey.

Turkey can live without the F-35. It’s too expensive and may be more vulnerable than advertised. The Turks can get similar, less expensive warplanes from Russia. India and China are both buying the S-400. Even the Saudis may join them though Moscow is delaying the sale. S-400’s are also stationed in Syria with Russian forces and are slated to go to sea in a naval version.

If the US reacts with even more anger, Turkey could threaten to withdraw from NATO and kick the US out of its highly strategic air base in southeast Turkey at Incirlik. It’s worth recalling that Turkey provided NATO’s second largest army after the US. Someone has to remind the deeply unknowing Trump that NATO without Turkey will be declawed. Equally important, that a Turkey unconstrained by NATO membership, will seek sources of oil which it lacks and desperately needs, and new alliances.

Only a century ago, Iraq’s rich oil fields used to be part of the Ottoman Empire until taken away by the British and French imperial powers. The days of a subservient, tame Turkey may be ending.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2019

This post is in: Turkey


  1. Zeeshan7 says:

    Turkey is a very cultured, educated and tolerant society, that have made economic strides in the last 15 years to become a true role model to other Islamic countries. They have enough confidence in themselves to not be bullied around.

    • I’ve only met one Turk…Ozdamir (sp?) about 50 years back. He was a well educated and expressive Architect.
      His son had just been drafted. His son was born in Canada, but, because parents were Turks, he could still be drafted. ‘Ozzie’ could pay a ‘fee’ so that he was exempt from military conscription.

  2. poreilly says:

    I am always amazed at Russia’s brilliant ingenuity. We should be thankful that countries like Russia and Turkey can present concrete barriers (we hope) to the warmongers in Washington.

    For now, this seems to be (let’s hope again) preventing a potential Third World War.

    I’ve been watching Dr. Strangelove these last few days. A brilliant depiction of the madness of those who crave war.

    The current leaders in Washington are a terrifying exaggeration of the characters in the film, I’m afraid.

    They always have been

  3. I was hoping that Turkey would get the S-400; it seemed that Turkey’s earlier meeting with Putin almost guaranteed the purchase. It is likely the most cost effective defence currently available. Iran needs some of these, too. I’m surprised there haven’t been discussions.
    I gather from American concerns that the proximity of the system to their F-35 can compromise the security features of the F-35. I don’t know if this was just hype to dissuade Turkey from purchasing the S-400 system or if there was an element of truth. There could be ‘Near Field Communication’ (NFC), or something similar, being applied here to gain electronic data. I don’t know how sophisticated the electronics are. It may also be possible to ‘map’ out a 3D image of the F-35 using LiDAR or something similar and this can be used for targetting. There may be other more sophisticated measures. The Americans, in any event, have concerns about the two weapons being in proximity.
    Threatening Turkey with the ‘tried and true’ American embargoes seems to be the American way these days. If not embargoes, then tariffs. The rest of the world puts up with this, afraid of upsetting the American financial juggernaut. As noted earlier Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki were precipitated due to American embargoes. France has an extraordinary social lifestyle due to their unions and taxation system. They want to tax the ultra rich Internet companies and others with a 3% surcharge to help pay for it; Trump immediately threatens tariffs. Such is the American way, it seems.
    The 400 km range is just perfect for the Middle East… all borders can be protected. Not only is the range great, but, the alleged accuracy is superb. I’ve heard the system has a ‘kill ratio’ of over 95%. There’s nothing like an inexpensive, ‘throw away’, surface to air missile to deter pesky and costly F-35s, B series bombers, AWACS, etc. Economically, it’s a great idea. I don’t know why Erdogan was looking to purchase tanks, or so many of them. I didn’t know that the cost for the S-400 is about half that of the Patriot system.
    The mobility of the S-400 system is a real added benefit. Shoot and Skoot is a neat description; I’ve not heard it used. The ‘set up’ time for operations is very short, I understand. The components do not have to be located in the same area.
    There is little reason for Turkey to remain a part of NATO. The loss of Turkey would be significant due to the size of the army and the strategic location of Turkey. I don’t know why Erdogan didn’t ‘play this card’ when he wanted to extradite Gulen. It seemed so natural; the ‘old guy’ is slipping, maybe.
    Erdogan is also in a precarious situation with the recent major election loss. Prior to that, he’s likely spent the last couple of decades ‘walking on eggshells’ due to his politics. I can see Turkey being taken over by Muslim interests, something Erdogan has been remarkably skilled at preventing. This complicates issues greatly. I’m not sure what the future brings, but, it could get really interesting.
    We’ll see how the Americans address this. I suspect to dissuade others in the area from making a similar move that should act swiftly. I’m not sure what the Americans can effectively accomplish. They do not want China and Russia to make additional gains in the area.
    Turkey has heavily invested in the F-35 program. If the Americans cancel the agreement, does Turkey get the money back? Turkey is manufacturing components of the F-35. Will the Americans cancel this too? Lots of questions.

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