Turkey has begun receiving the S-400 surface-to-air missile system under a controversial $2.5 billion April 2017 order. On Friday July 12, two Russian air force Antonov An-124-100s landed at Mürted Air Base near Ankara to unload the first batch of equipment. Since then, the defense ministries of both nations, and the news outlets dependent on them, have been covering the process on a regular basis, reporting about each new arrival—a move unprecedented in the recent history of arms sales.
By Sunday evening, seven cargo flights had been made. Videos released so far depicted various pieces of system components, including a 5P85TE2 transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) and a missile reloading truck. After assembly at Mürted by a joint Turkish-Russian technical team, the system will be installed at several locations across Turkey. Local media reports that the missiles will come by sea “within days,” and that the whole system will become operational in September. "The process is underway as planned.” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters. “We have coordinated the process, including permissions for aircraft and the personnel."
The issue is highly politicized, to such an extent that the shipments are timed to coincide with the third anniversary of the failed July 2016 coup attempt, and are widely seen as a turning point in Ankara’s relations with Washington and NATO.
"The S-400 purchase and the disputes that took place over the issue showed us the common sense of our people,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday when meeting prominent members of the local media in Istanbul. “The move aims to bolster the national security and sustain regional peace,” he insisted. "This is not an arbitrary purchase—this is a compulsory purchase."
According to Erdoğan, “a certain batch of equipment” will have been shipped by the year-end, and the whole shipment process is to be completed by April 2020. A hundred Turkish servicemen are in Russia for training on the S-400, but to fully man the system the nation needs “10 times more” specialists, and most of them will be trained in the country.
Although Erdoğan believes Turkey’s S-400 acquisition “will produce a strong impact on NATO … making the bloc stronger,” the U.S. has been applying pressure on Ankara, urging it to give up shopping in Russia for weapons. Washington is considering applying Countering America’s Adversaries by Sanctions Acts (CAATSA) and removing Turkey from the F-35 program. Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper called Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar to express his concerns on the matter. Following their phone call, Ankara issued a statement stressing that Turkey's move to purchase the S-400 was a necessity rather than a choice. The document also says that the $3.5 billion U.S. proposal based on the Patriot SAM is being evaluated, as well as the possibility of establishing a “no-fly" zone over Syria.
Turkey is a partner in the U.S.-led F-35 program, with $1.4 billion already invested in the industrial effort and an order placed for 100 F-35s worth $10 billion. In the meantime, the Pentagon has stopped Turkish trainees from flying in the F-35 after Ankara sent servicemen to Russia for S-400 training in the spring, and began efforts to remove Turkey-based manufacturers from the industrial program.
Washington has also been urging India not to proceed with its S-400 procurement arranged last October. Although New Delhi signed the $5.4 billion contract, it is yet to make a pre-payment. Moscow pledges to make the first shipment 24 months after receiving the money and proceed with a further five deliveries at 12-month intervals. Russia’s Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation (FSVTS) told AIN that, if everything goes according to plan, India will receive an initial shipment in late 2020/early 2021, and the whole set in 2024.