In S-400 air defense system, Turkey / Türkiye

Ankara castle in the city centre

Recently, one of Turkey’s most respected generals, the now retired İlker Başbuğ, spoke about the country’s purchase of the S-400 defence systems from Russia and F-35 fighter jets from the US, reminding his audience of the complicated relationship between the US and Turkey.

Published on UWI, July 13, 2019

The former head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Turkey, retired general İlker Başbuğ recently made a number of powerful statements about his country’s purchase of Russian S-400 defense systems and American F-35 fighters (which Ankara still counts on receiving despite threat from the US to the contrary). Here are the most important excerpts from his speeches.


It is well known that our special forces are located in northern Iraq, some of which are in Sulaymaniyah. Sixteen years ago, on July 4, 2003, what has become known as the “bag incident” occurred in that area. Let me remind you that on July 4, Independence Day is celebrated in the US. Apparently, the date the incident occurred was not an accident. American soldiers attacked the building in which our military units were stationed in Sulaymaniyah and detained them. This was a serious insult to us. Our soldiers were taken from the site with bags on their heads, so they would not know where there were being sent. This incident dealt a serious blow to Turkish-American relations, and will not be forgotten. Has our government been able to offer an adequate answer to this insult? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

When this happened, I was the head of the Ground Forces Command, while our units in northern Iraq were entirely under the responsibility and authority of the General Staff. As I learned later, that day the General Staff had called the Americans, but they didn’t answer. This situation has created an abyss between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Pentagon. In early September, I was transferred to the 2nd command of the General Staff. When I arrived, Turkish-American relations experienced a period of tension and cooling.


Firstly, we must prevent the possibility of such an incident repeating in the future, and so I appealed to the head of the General Staff with a request to send a special forces commander to northern Iraq. The commander had to acquaint all the unit commanders with a written order from the General Staff and conduct a review of the combat readiness of the troops. The head of the General Staff gave the go-ahead. We sent the following order to all unit commanders: “In case of any attack on your units, without receiving permission from Ankara or the commander of the special forces, respond with symmetrical force.” We also sent the text of the order to the American embassy. An hour later, the phone rang – “The American ambassador wants to meet with you.” “Well, let him come,” we answered. “If even a single hair is harmed on the head of a soldier in our unit, even at the cost of life, we will fight and kill as many of the attackers as possible, there is no other way. If you do not want to deal a second blow to Turkish-American relations, as a responsible and authorized person, take all necessary measures to ensure that an incident like that which occured in Sulaymaniyah does not recur.

“We will answer anyone who strikes us in turn,” I said.

“You are right,” the ambassador replied. During my time in the 2nd command of the General Staff, nothing like this happened: we took action. History will put everything in its place. A number of books have been written about this.


Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923, speaking about national policy, said: “The reason for the existence of governments is the security of the motherland. The main thing is to ensure the security of our territory, and the peace and prosperity of the people. ” Atatürk emphasized security, tranquility and prosperity. “In the process of ensuring this, you must rely on your own strength,” he said. Security, in the first instance, refers to the security of the entire homeland — land, water space, and, in particular, coastal waters, as well as economic zones.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk 1918


One of the main duties of the state is to exercise control over its own airspace, and to prevent the threat of intrusion into this space from the outside: this is a matter of national security. The area of ​​our land area is 776 thousand square meters. The airspace above the coastal waters is within the area of our ​​responsibility and authority. Several threats could come from this region, such as a drone or jet fighter, and cruise missiles or ballistic missiles. If you are unable to control your airspace and do not have the resources to neutralize possible threats from the outside, then you do not have a secure border. What systems can accomplish this task? Only air defense systems. Air defense systems come in close, medium and long range. Turkey already has close and medium range defense systems – both US-made, which work up to 18-20 km. Meanwhile, our country has no long-range air defense systems the work at high altitudes.


At any moment, Turkey could be subject to a rocket barrage. One of the biggest threats to the country is a ballistic missile attack, therefore, there is a strong need for a long-range air defense system. I want to remind those who ask why we invest so much money in defense of one important fact: in 2002, Greece acquired the US-made Patriot missile defense system. This implies that controlling airspace and preventing threats is a key task for ensuring the security of their country. These systems are defensive, not offensive. The same is true of the S-400 and the Patriot systems, you can not use them to attack another country. Turkey is very late in purchasing such a defensive system, the need to secure long-range aerial defense capability was already present in the early 2000s.


Undoubtedly, the S-400 system is several orders higher than the US’ competing Patriot complexes. The S-400 is the world’s most effective long-range air defense system at a high altitude, and is able to recognize targets from 600 km. The target can be an airplane, a ballistic missile or a cruise missile. When the target approaches 400 km, the system knocks it down. There is no target at that height that the S-400 could not hit and neutralize. The S-400 system can independently recognize and focus on a target, as well as destroy it with vast superiority to its US counterpart. This is a highly effective system which even a fly will not be able to move past unnoticed. If we consider the technical parameters of the systems, the S-400 is undoubtedly in the lead: it is the best in the world.

Wikipedia Commons


The S-400 is only one side of the issue, the other is the F-35 fighter jet… yet, these two sides are interrelated. The F-35 fighter, a fifth generation aircraft, is an order of magnitude higher than the F-16. Their most important feature is stealth against radar detection. Can the S-400 recognize the F-35? This is not the main issue. Another thing is important: the prototype of this aircraft was created in 2001. It’s been 18 years. Turkey joined the production program in 2002. Some parts of the fighter are made in Turkey. Currently. Nine countries are participating in the program – the USA, Great Britain, Italy, Austria, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Canada and Turkey. Neither France nor Germany are participants.


The manufacturer of the F-35 will receive $ 1.5 trillion. This is a huge amount, even by US standards. Since Turkey is involved in the production of components, it will also receive income in the amount of 6 to 12 billion dollars.

But the main thing is that the American manufacturer, in selling these aircraft to other countries, will receive $ 1.5 trillion. Impressive, considering this is a single-engine aircraft with a cumbersome design.

The important question is whether the planes will be invisible to radars or not? It is unknown. Nonetheless, there are serious doubts. If we are talking about radars of a modern system like the S-400, then there is a real risk for these aircraft.


The F-35 fighter program is of great importance to the United States and its defense. Turkey, meanwhile, has acquired the S-400 from Russia. Very soon they will arrive in the country. The rejection of the S-400 for Turkey would be tantamount to a loss of its credibility and reputation. We cannot allow this to happen: guarantees were given, money was paid. Thus, the S-400 will be delivered to Turkey, it can’t be any other way, the question is resolved.

Let’s take a look at the situation through the eyes of America. If it sends you F-35 airplanes, the first thing you need to do is download all the electronic information about these airplanes into the S-400 system. We in aviation call this “electronic footprint”. And this, in turn, means that you will conduct a specific test for the visibility or non-visibility of fighter jets with radars. For the US, this is unacceptable. After all, we are talking about a project worth $ 1.5 trillion. The program is potentially threatened by questions of whether or not the jets can actually avoid radar detection. The best test of this claim would naturally be the S-400, which is why the US wants to avoid such a test occuring at any cost.


For this reason, Turkey will likely not be able to purchase the F-35s. In this regard, a certain responsibility falls on the state. It is necessary to develop an action plan in case we are not supplied with these fighters. We in the General Staff and the Air Force necessarily considered this option. Our main military aircraft are F-16s. We may be strong now, but each aircraft has a limited fuselage life. For the F-16, it is 8 thousand hours. After it flies 8 thousand hours, it needs to undergo a reinforcement of the fuselage, because they expire after 4-5 years. It is necessary to act in accordance with plans to incorporate a fifth-generation fighter into the armed forces. We must either buy them from another country, or make efforts to accelerate the implementation of a project to create our own national aircraft.


The S-400 is a strategic defense system capable of providing the country with a great deal of superiority in the defense field. We acquired the air defense system and placed it in the south, thus covering the Eastern Mediterranean, Syria, Cyprus. No alien plane will be able to fly there, and control of the airspace will be in our hands. If we place them in the west – we will control the Aegean and Mediterranean region. This system will give us a lot of power. Where will these complexes be located? I can not answer this question. This decision should be made by the relevant government departments. Initially, there were those who said that Turkey would buy the S-400, but put them in a warehouse. Two days ago, US Senator S. Abraham made a curious statement. “Well, let Turkey buy S-400, but not activate them.” Will it be revealed if we activate them? Of course, by satellite, it would be discovered nearly instantly. Let me remind you that the Americans initially threatened to impose sanctions if the S-400s were delivered. Therefore, we see a strong compromise of Washington’s earlier position.


EDITOR’S NOTE: We remind our readers that publication of articles on our site does not mean that we agree with what is written. Our policy is to publish anything which we consider of interest, so as to assist our readers in forming their opinions. Sometimes we even publish articles with which we totally disagree, since we believe it is important for our readers to be informed on as wide a spectrum of views as possible.

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