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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2647

S-400 Air Defence System: potential to bring down planes, missiles and powerful military alliances

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

The unthinkable finally happened; Turkey had the first batch of Russia’s formidable S-400 surface-to-air missile system delivered on Friday, much to the annoyance of the US – and to the dismay of Turkey’s NATO allies.

The US had been repeatedly warning Turkey, a key NATO member, against the purchase of the missile system - for obvious reasons. The US said in the recent past that there would be consequences if Turkey went ahead with its ambitious plan.

In April this year, for instance, Mike Pence, the US vice president, didn’t mince his words when he warned Turks against the move: "We'll not stand idly by while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries, weapons that threaten the very cohesion of this alliance," Mr Pence said.

The US can impose sanctions against any country that it thinks poses threats to its national security under CAATSA act - Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. In this context, the Congress can single out Turkey for potential sanctions, when the latter can least afford it - going through a recession at present.

After the recent meeting with President Trump at G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, however, the two sides appeared to be on conciliatory terms with regard to the controversial purchase, as if the US leader gave the green light for the move.

Referring to his counterpart in the US, President Erdogan said last month, “Our relations with Trump are very different to those below him. Consequently, I give zero chance to the possibility of the implementation of sanctions.”

Mr Erdogan, has a reason to be optimistic, because President Trump publicly said that it was not the fault of the former to turn to Russia for the S-400 missile system. He implied that the Obama Administration was more or less responsible for what he called the ‘mess’; they refused to sell Patriotic missile system, the American equivalent of S-400, to Turkey.

After the G-20 summit, judging by Mr Erdogan’s infectious optimism, he expects that President Trump would intervene in the event of the Congress imposing punitive sanctions againt Turkey over the purchase of S-400 – something that remains to be seen.

The US, time and again, has reiterated that the acquisition of the S-400 missile system from Russia and F-35 stealth fighters from US, simultaneously or otherwise, is mutually exclusive.

In this context, on this issue, Mr Erdogan is like someone who stands at the centre of a circle while struggling to reach for two items at the diametrically opposing ends.

Although Turkey has paid $1.4 billion for the purchase of 116 F-35 jets, only four have been delivered so far; Turkey wants the rest of the jets delivered, but the US refused to go ahead with the request citing its displeasure over the purchase of the S-400 air defence system.

The Americans refuse to sell F-35 jets to Turkey in the current circumstances citing the ‘incompatibility’ of the latter with the Russian missile systems. In addition, they say Russia can gather details about the state-of-the-art stealth fighter, in the event of the two systems becoming operational.

Turkey is not the only country in the NATO that use Russian air defence systems. Bulgaria, Greece and Slovakia did acquire S-300 few years back, ruffling feathers in the military alliance, but to no avail.

S-400: Frightning Facts

  • Four types of missiles covering four ranges - from 40km to 400km
  • Speed Mach 15 or 5000 metres per second
  • Can destroy both cruise missiles and aircrafts
  • Can sniff out the presence of stealth fighters - F-22 AND F-35
  • Highly mobile and modular - transportation and assembly are quick

✈ 🚀

The intense discussions that go on about the S-400 missile system have inadvertently attracted more buyers for the Russian system: India and China have already purchased it; Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt have shown a keen interest in it and may follow suit, despite being key US allies.

The bold moves, made by both India and Turkey, may encourage these potential buyers to elevate their ambition from aspiration stage to the next level, even if the US threaten to slap sanctions on them on individual basis.

- Asian Tribune -

S-400 Air Defence System: potential to bring down planes, missiles and powerful military alliances
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