Turkey’s S-400 Dilemma

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This paper penned by EDAM Defense Analyst  Dr. Can Kasapoğlu explores the implications of Turkey’s possible purchase of the Russian made S-400 missile defense systems. Kasapoğlu argues that Ankara’s immediate aim is to procure the system primarily for air defense missions as a surface-to-air missile (SAM) asset, rather than performing ballistic missile defense (BMD) functions. This priority largely stems from the Turkish Air Force’s currently low pilot-to-cockpit ratio (0.8:1 by open-source 2016 estimates). Thus, even if the procurement is to be realized, Turkey will essentially operate the S-400s as a stopgap measure to augment its air superiority calculus over geo-strategically crucial areas. Planned correctly, the system could theoretically give a boost to Turkey’s air defense capabilities. However, it would be unrealistic to portray the S-400 solution as a panacea for protecting the Turkish territory and population against ballistic missiles. In the absence of a robust network of satellites, radars, early-warning aircraft, and sensors connected with a tactical data link, as well as without a layered interception capacity including exo-atmospheric coverage, the S-400s’ ballistic missile defense (BMD) role would be very limited.

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