Exclusive: Turkey to test S-400 air defense system October 5-16, official correspondence reveals

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S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile launchers

Cevheri Güven

According to a piece of official correspondence dated September 24 seen by Turkish Minute, Turkey will activate the S-400 missile defense system it purchased from Russia and test it in mid-October near the northern city of Sinop.

Turkey’s purchase of a missile system produced by Russia, a country deemed an adversary by the US, had caused Turkey to be removed from the F-35 fighter jet program by Washington.

According to an agreement between the Presidency’s Air Transport and Administrative Affairs departments and the Chief of General Staff’s Office, 10 BANSHEE type aerial targets will be dispatched to the Sinop Missile Range to be used in the tests of the S-400 air defense system between October 5 and October 16.

“S-400 weapon system test shots will be fired at the Sinop Missile Range between 05-16 October 2020 to ensure the engagement capability of the S-400 weapons system, the detection and tracking capability of the system’s radars, the communications system capabilities, and the control of the firing and command control capabilities,” read the document.

According to the document, the Presidency permitted a pre-activation of the defense system before the tests in Sinop to test the radar capabilities at the Mürted Airfield Command near Ankara, between September 28 and October 2.

The command was the headquarters of a coup bid in July 2016; therefore, the Presidency maintains strict control over the activities. The document seen by Turkish Minute stipulates that an officer at the tower inform President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and secure his approval two hours before every shot.

According to the document, S-400 batteries, 10 BANSHEE type aerial targets, a UAV ground control station and other necessary equipment that was to be readied at Mürted Airbase before September 26 will be moved to Sinop on October 5. After the deployment of the military equipment and ordnance, the S-400 batteries will be fired at BANSHEE targets between October 5 and October 16.

Activation could prompt CAATSA sanctions

Washington is wary about the S-400 system collecting data on its F-35 stealth fighter jets, and Turkey, a NATO ally, purchased the system in 2017 after moving closer to Russia since the first leader to call President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in support after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 was Vladimir Putin.

US-Turkey tensions escalated after the acquisition, and Washington’s attempts to persuade Ankara to dispose of the system were in vain.

After Russia began shipping the S-400 system to Turkey in July 2019, the US removed Turkey from its list of F-35 program partners.

On July 17 the US House of Representatives passed the Countering Russia’s Export of Arms Act with bipartisan support, which would designate the acquisition of the S-400 by Turkey as “a significant transaction pursuant to Section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA),” Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger said at the time.

“Not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall, pursuant to section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, impose five or more of the sanctions described in section 235 of such Act (22 U.S.C. 8 9529) with respect to the Government of Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 air and missile defense system from the Russian Federation,” the bill approved in the House of Representatives stipulates.

US President Donald Trump refrained from imposing harsh CAATSA sanctions on Turkey at the time, restricting the country’s reaction to eliminating Turkey from the F-35 list.

S-400 acquisition

The first meeting over the purchase of the S-400 anti-aircraft weapons system between Turkey and Russia came three months after the July 2016 abortive putsch, during the 23rd World Energy Congress summit held in İstanbul. Inaugurated by Putin and Erdoğan, the meeting was seen by many as burying of hatchets by both sides after tensions flared when Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet in 2015.

The acquisition deal was signed on April 11, 2017, but was not initially announced.

Erdoğan announced the development at a meeting of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on July 25, 2017.

On July 12 Russia delivered the weapons system to Turkey, a country without an air defense system of its own until that time. In 2013 Patriot missile systems belonging to the US, Germany, and the Netherlands were temporarily deployed at its southern border over a chemical attack threat from Syria’s President Bashar al Assad.

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