On Saturday, a MiG-29 Fulcrum violated Turkish airspace. Turkey responded by scrambling its own fighter aircraft. F-16s intercepted the MiG and escorted it out of Turkish airspace. On the surface, this seems to be a fairly open and shut case. Russia has apologized for the incursion and blamed weather conditions for the intercept and promised Ankara it would not happen again.
Then today, NATO released a statement on the “Recent dangerous military activities of the Russian Federation in and around Syria.” NATO has claimed that there were multiple incursions of Turkish airspace by Russian Su-30 Flanker and Su-24 Fencer aircraft on Saturday and Sunday. The statement follows a report by the Turkish military claiming that the MiG-29 placed two of its F-16s under radar lock for nearly six minutes. It is still unclear what nation the MiG belonged to, but in all likelihood it was Syrian. The nationality of the pilot is another story entirely.
The danger of an inadvertent confrontation in the skies over Syria or Turkey should not be taken lightly. There are large numbers of warplanes operating over Syria. The aircraft belong to a host of nations. I’ve talked about the chances of an encounter before. It’s a very real possibility with so many aircraft operation in such close proximity. One mistake can lead to an accident that quickly escalates into an international situation or worse. Tensions are high enough right now. It wouldn’t take much to bring on a situation where Russian and Coalition aircraft are engaging and firing on each other.
This past weekend should serve as a warning. Unfortunately, the chances that Moscow will see it as such are slim. Russia has the initiative in this crisis for the moment. The US, Turkey, NATO and other parties opposed to Bashar al-Assad are reacting to Russian actions. That does not seem like it will be changing anytime soon.
Make no mistake about it, the situation in the skies over Syria is a dangerous one, and bound to deteriorate even more unless something changes fast.