Thursday 26 November, 2015 Update: Russia And Turkey Simmer


Tensions between Turkey and Russia are simmering in the wake of Tuesday’s shoot-down of a Russian Su-24 Fencer fighter bomber by a Turk F-16 after it strayed into Turkish airspace. Russia has claimed that its aircraft never crossed the border and was not issued radio warnings, as claimed by the Turks. Turkey, in response, released audio recordings that indicate the Su-24 was warned several times and did not respond to requests that it alter course.

Now, following the incident, Russia is moving forward with the deployment of a battery of long range SAMs to Syria. The SA-21 Growler (S-400) is an effective air defense system with a range of 250 miles. From where the battery is being placed outside of Latakia, its range enables it to cover a large swath of airspace over the Eastern Mediterranean, including portions of southern Turkey. Along with the SAM deployment, Russian attack jets will now be provided with fighter escorts for their missions against Syrian rebel positions. These moves, it is hoped by Moscow, will deter any future Turkish actions against Russian aircraft.

Turkey has rejected Russian demands for an apology, emphatically sticking to its position that the Russian aircraft violated Turkish airspace. Meanwhile, Russia is apparently preparing to slap Turkey with economic sanctions. This is a significant step considering that the two nations have important economic connections. Russia is Turkey’s second largest trading partner and will, predictably, feel the pinch quite soon if sanctions are placed in effect.

On the bright side, it is a a relief to see that Russia is seeking to even the score with economic measures instead of military action. But the movement of SA-21 missiles into Syria is a sign that any future clash between Turkish and Russian aircraft will run the risk of cascading into a much larger confrontation.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Syrian Update 5 October, 2015: Flying The Tense, Crowded Skies

Turkish air force F-16

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.