Turkey has taken delivery of the first shipment of a Russian S-400 Triumph air defence system, defying increasingly vocal warnings from the US that it faces sanctions over the $2.5bn acquisition.
The S-400 — or the SA-21 Growler, as it is known within the Nato defence alliance — is one of the world’s most advanced air defence systems.
When deployed as part of a wider military infrastructure, the S-400 has the capacity to take out a wide range of threats including drones, fighter jets and cruise missiles.
Though US officials have warned Turkey of the consequences of proceeding, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone ahead with the deal. Turkey, a Nato member, has not yet said where its two sets of S-400 systems, or “regiments”, will be deployed.
Washington’s primary concern is that Turkey’s purchase jeopardises the security of Nato’s new F-35 stealth fighter jet.
US defence officials say the Russian military could use an S-400 stationed in Turkey to collect sensitive data about the fifth generation aircraft, which is due to form the backbone of Nato member states’ future air operations.
Turkey disputes this, arguing that it will protect the security of the F-35 by ensuring that the new S-400 system is not linked up to Turkey’s wider, Nato-integrated defence architecture. The US remains unsatisfied by this proposal.
The Pentagon is expected to suspend Turkey’s purchase of 100 F-35 aircraft, which is supposed to play a key role in the future strategy of the Turkish air force, as well as halting the role of Turkish companies in producing components for the jet.
Experts say this not only risks harming the Turkish economy, but could also hamper the future capabilities of Turkish armed forces and the country’s long-term standing within the Nato military alliance.
Ankara may also face separate punitive measures under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) that could hurt the Turkish defence sector and the fragile economy.
If the dispute escalates further, some analysts fear it could cause long-term damage to Ankara’s relationship with the US, draw Turkey closer to Moscow and imperil the country’s role within Nato.
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