Turkey: Ankara's S-300 Curiosity


Turkey is reportedly in the process of acquiring late-model Russian air defense technology from Ukraine and Belarus, Turkish daily Today's Zaman reported Aug. 25. Bought second-hand, these systems would be used for the Turkish air force to train against, rather than to upgrade Ankara's aging air defense network. That training could prove an important tool for both Turkey specifically and NATO in general.


Turkey is in the process of acquiring several variants of the Russian S-300 air defense system, Turkish daily Today's Zaman reported Aug. 25. The systems - reportedly to be acquired second-hand from Belarus and Ukraine - are not meant to revitalize Ankara's aging air defense network; they are intended to be a training tool for the Turkish air force. Turkey decided to make the purchase July 22 - before the Russo-Georgian conflict - but should the deal go through, the lessons Turkey hopes to learn will almost certainly proliferate to NATO as a whole.

The S-300 encompasses a number of long-range strategic air defense systems (some variants also have a limited ballistic missile defense capability). Turkey has its sights set on both the S-300 and S-300V. The former, known to NATO as the SA-10B/C/D, encompasses several models of varying capability, but in short approaches the height of Soviet strategic air defense systems. Though neither Ukraine nor Belarus has the most modern S-300 variants - the PMU series - Turkey will likely attempt to acquire a PMU-series variant from them if it can, because Ankara knows Greece fields a PMU1 variant on Crete.

The S-300V, meanwhile, shares the same design heritage as the S-300 (including some component parts). But while its spectrum of coverage and engagement envelope are quite similar, it is a distinct air defense system (known to NATO as the SA-12) characterized by the large tracked vehicles on which it is mounted. The S-300V was designed with a higher degree of mobility in mind. Russian troops deployed near the Turkish border in Armenia are protected by an S-300V battery.

Both the United States and Israel reportedly were able to acquire some S-300 components during the 1990s (including, in the U.S. case, parts of the S-300V), but the Turkish effort could include a later model or a more complete system.

Should Turkey succeed in this acquisition, Ankara's subsequent work would take two important approaches. The first is reverse engineering, where key components are disassembled and their inner workings closely examined. The second is training in electronic warfare against actual systems.

Ukraine and Belarus have neither the newest nor the best-maintained air defense hardware. The condition of the equipment Ankara seeks to buy is unclear, and Russia may be in a position to block at least the Belarusian part of the sale. But perhaps the most significant aspect of this news is the intention to train against it - not just dissecting the missile, but actually flying against functional systems.

A training range at Konya, less than 150 miles south of Ankara, is reportedly slated to host this Russian hardware, along with the shorter-range Russian Tor-M1. According to the report, the systems will be integrated with an electronic warfare training system with which Turkey's F-16s will conduct exercises.

If Turkey is able to acquire even one of the three S-300 variants it seeks, it will undoubtedly work at the training range to learn and test the technology's performance parameters. This will allow Turkey (and any other NATO allies who happen to train with Turkish forces at the Konya facility) to test tactics and challenge the system over and over again. Whether it will succeed in acquiring a PMU1 remains to be seen, but even older variants could offer very real insight into some of the overall S-300 design's ultimate limitations and weaknesses. And the result will be a Turkish air force more capable of addressing the two most advanced air defense systems positioned on its periphery: the Greek S-300PMU1 batteries (which were originally slated for Cyprus) to its southwest and the Russian S-300V battery in Armenia, on its eastern border.



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