For NATO, the supply of Russian anti-aircraft missile systems S-400 to Turkey is a real provocation. Instead of the conventional partner systems adopted within the alliance, Turkey wants to install a missile shield, developed by an increasingly aggressive rival, Russia.
Within NATO, resistance is mounting. The Russian system is allegedly not only incompatible with NATO's technical systems. The alliance fears that with the help of the S-400, Moscow will be able to find the strengths and weaknesses of the fifth-generation F-35 American fighter.
Turkey intends to purchase more than a hundred F-35 fighters for its own air force. It is a billion-dollar deal. However, it is the S-400 system that is considered potentially the most dangerous enemy of the multifunctional fighter, which in the next few years should become the basis of the US Air Force and other countries.
Accordingly, NATO is alarmed too. One NATO diplomat said that even if the deal with the S-400 is delayed, we must think about the reaction right now.
Publicly voiced fears are still mild. The purchase of the S-400 planned by Turkey means "a lot of trouble," US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said in Congress. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stressed at a meeting of the foreign ministers of NATO member countries that these were only statements about the purchase, but there was no actual treaty.
Internal analysis is more specific. To put it simply, NATO servicemen are cautious about the deliveries of Russian S-400 air defense systems, since, in their opinion, the complexes can become a sort of "Moscow eye" in NATO territory. When using these systems, Turks will depend on Russian aid for several years, and the data obtained during this time can leak into Moscow. In addition, internal sources suggest that with the help of complex software S-400, Russia will be able to collect all the data on the F-35.
Extensive C-400 radar readings can be very useful for studying the weaknesses of F-35 fighters. Air Force experts warn that in this way Russia will be able to study and evaluate the fighters flying through Turkey. Washington does not like the fact that Moscow will be able to closely study the US super-jets, developed for billions of dollars.
However, experts say that stealth technology protects the fighter from the radars of the Russian system. However, Russian SAMs will be able to record onboard radar data, ground communication channels, and radio communications, with the help of which Russia will step by step study and locate allegedly invisible fighters.
For such an armament system as the F-35, stealth technology and data transmission capabilities are of a great importance, so this would be a catastrophe. "We have to protect this science-intensive technology," said Heidi H. Grant, a member of the Senior Executive Service, is the Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, last November at an air show in Dubai. According to her, from this point of view, the deal between Turkey and Russia is dangerous.
These fears should spur the American discussion on the sale of the F-35. In late April, three senators from the Republicans introduced a bill to the US Congress. They demand to suspend the deal, as Turkey increasingly moves away from democracy and, for example, does not protect the strategic interests of the US in the Syrian conflict, but pursues its own goals.
In April, a senior US foreign ministry official even declared in the House of Representatives that sanctions could be imposed on Turkey on the basis of a law that provides for sanctions for the purchase of Russian weapons from 2017. Strictly speaking, the United States thereby wanted to punish Russia for the annexation of Crimea.
However, the blockade would have been a rather abrupt step: yet since 1999 Turkey has been one of the nine partners in the F-35 program. In addition, politically, this step would be similar to a vote of no confidence in the NATO partner. Even today, Turkish President Erdogan frankly flirts with Russia and increasingly turns away from NATO. No one can foresee how he will react to another slap from the alliance.
This is probably one more reason why NATO has so far confined itself to cautious threats. Of course, any member of NATO is free to buy weapons, said Chairman of the NATO Military Committee Petr Pavel last November in Washington. According to him, other partners in the alliance are also free in their actions. "Every decision has its consequences," Pavel added.
Click here for the original story (in German) on the Spiegel Online website.