Forthcoming S-500 Induction Fuels Turkish Interest

 - March 12, 2019, 2:23 PM
A TEL (transporter-erector-launcher) system for the S-400 is seen on a MAZ chassis. Operational systems use the BAZ vehicle. (photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Chief of Russia’s Air-and-Space Defense Military Academy, Lt. Gen. Vladimir Lyaporov, said that the S-350 and S-500 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) will become operational “later this year,” ahead of an earlier plan by the Russian defense ministry to bring these advanced surface-to-air missile systems into service in 2020.

Speaking to the Red Star newspaper, an information outlet for the Russian defense ministry, Lyaporov further stated that the training center for SAM crews at Gatchina near St. Petersburg is already preparing servicemen to operate the S-500. “In 2019 we will graduate the first group of officers who completed courses in the S-500. Although this system is not yet operational, its induction is expected shortly.” He also stated that a first system of the S-350 is to arrive soon at Gatchina for intended use in the training process.

The Academy’s chief spoke days after the Russian defense ministry’s announcement that the S-350 and S-500 induction is now planned for 2019. Like the S-400 and Pantsyr-SM, these missile systems also employ BAZ high-mobility vehicles on wheeled chassis and other common elements for interoperability. This year, the ministry expects the Almaz-Antey Air and Space Defense Corporation to deliver 10 sets of these advanced SAMs. To protect the nation’s key political, military and industrial targets, Russia’s current Air and Space Defense Strategy calls for a multi-level anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense system employing several SAM types that would operate under a unitary control by cross-type automated centers.

News of the S-500 approaching its entry-into-service has encouraged Ankara to seek ways of acquiring its technologies and specimens to assist with localization. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began asking his Russian counterpart for the next-generation SAM back in October 2017, after Ankara and Moscow had settled funding issues on the $2.5 billion Turkish purchase of the production S-400 system. In June 2018, Erdoğan said he had discussed with Putin ways to arrange “joint production” of the S-500.

On March 6, 2019 Erdogan again touched on the theme: "We concluded the S-400 issue, signed a deal with the Russians, and will [soon] start co-production. Later, we may proceed with the S-500." On a separate occasion, he said: “For the future, we have been considering S-500’s joint production and technology [sharing].”

Russo-Turkish talks on the S-400 commenced in 2016. It took negotiators about a year to arrive at a framework agreement. To facilitate the deal, Moscow arranged a credit line on “very favorable conditions.” Ankara says the acquisition program consists of several phases. The first one would see direct purchase of ready-to-use equipment, the second and third would involve localization and joint production.

Meanwhile, Washington continues to apply pressure on Ankara, demanding it abandon the purchase of advanced Russian weaponry. According to Erdoğan, President Donald Trump has personally asked him to give up the S-400. “We replied that this is a done deal. We are not going to abandon our agreements with Russia.” He further said that shipments will commence in July 2019. Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar stressed that Ankara purchasing the S-400 is "not a choice but a necessity." He expects Turkey’s first S-400 unit to come on line in October 2019.

Speaking in the Senate Armed Services Committee, NATO's supreme allied commander, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, said Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian SAMs would “potentially forfeit many of the other systems,” including the F-35. While lacking interoperability with NATO equipment, the S-400 is “a problem to all of our aircraft, but specifically the F-35.” He fears that Turkey operating both Russian SAMs and U.S. fighters would lead to the S-400 operators obtaining critical information on the F-35’s radar signatures. Ankara has been seeking to acquire up to a hundred F-35s, and is an industrial partner in the program. Turkish pilots are currently undergoing type conversion at Luke AFB in Arizona.

Washington is offering Ankara a $3.5 billion deal on the Patriot SAM, already approved by Congress with a caveat that Turkey reconsiders its S-400 purchase. Pentagon spokesman Charles Summers told reporters that Turkey's decision to acquire advanced weapons from Russia “would mean that they would not have access to the Patriots and the F-35s.” He threated Ankara with “grave consequences in terms of our military relationship.”