Defense Update: Syrian Downing of Turkish Reconnaissance Aircraft — Questions Are Raised (UPDATED)
The BBC reports that Turkey has scrambled six F-16 fighter jets near its border with Syria after Syrian helicopters came close to the border.
Excerpts from the BBC report:
Six jets were sent to the area in response to three such incidents on Saturday, the statement said, adding that there was no violation of Turkish airspace.
Turkey’s government has been outspoken in its condemnation of Syria’s response to the 16-month anti-government uprising, which has seen more than 30,000 Syrian refugees enter Turkey.
Turkey’s military has more than 500 miles of border with Syria to defend. It has now decided to treat everything that happens on the Syrian side of the border with extreme suspicion.
The scrambling of the jets is a sign of continuing tensions. A little over a week ago, Syria shot down a Turkish warplane. Syria says that the aircraft was flying inside Syrian airspace – a charge denied by Turkey.
Following Syria’s shooting down of a Turkish F-4 aircraft “the Turkish government announced that it had revised its military rules of engagement towards Syria. From now on, every military element that approached the Turkish border from Syria would be considered as a threat. The military has now acted on its new rules. “
More from the BBC:
On Friday, Turkey said it had begun deploying rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns along the border in response to the downing of its F-4 Phantom jet on 22 June.
Four of the six jets were scrambled on Saturday from the airbase of Incirlik in response to two occasions of Syrian helicopters flying close to Hatay province, Sunday’s army statement said.
Later, two more F-16s took off from a base near Batman, in southeastern Turkey, after Syrian helicopters were spotted close to the province of Mardin, it added.
The military said the helicopters flew as close as 6.5km (4 miles) to the border, according to the AP news agency.
Read more here
As the fighting and violence continue unabatedly in Syria, including the attack on a pro-government television station and explosions outside the palace of justice in central Damascus, Turkey has begun deploying rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns along its border with Syria after last week’s downing of a Turkish military plane, according to BBC News:
Columns of military vehicles have been seen moving from military bases to the border, close to where the jet crashed.
Extra troops have been sent to the border area and Turkish TV has shown pictures of a small convoy of lorries carrying anti-aircraft guns into a military base near the border town of Yayladagi.
Other military vehicles have travelled to the border town of Reyhanli in Hatay province, reports say.
Read more here.
While Turkey’s NATO allies publicly support Turkey in the downing by Syria of Turkey’s unarmed, two-seat RF-4E Phantom — a reconnaissance version of the F-4 fighter jet — U.S. and NATO officials are now privately raising questions about the incident.
The questions surround the aircraft’s real mission, its flight path, and where and how it was downed.
• Where exactly was it when it was engaged by Syrian air defences?
• Why had it strayed into Syrian air-space for at least a small part of its flight?
• Why were measures not taken to alert the aircraft’s crew of their error before knocking the plane out of the sky?
• Was this just a routine training mission as the Turks say, or was the aircraft seeking to monitor what was going on the ground?
Regarding the latter, the aircraft’s mission, the New York Times points out that preliminary analysis of available data by American and allied officials suggests that “there may have been more to the aircraft’s mission than just a routine training exercise to test Turkey’s air defenses.”
However, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, while acknowledging that RF-4E Phantom was equipped for surveillance, strongly denies it was doing reconnaissance on this particular mission, according to the Times.
As to where and how the aircraft was shot down, Syria claims that the aircraft was brought down by anti-aircraft artillery that has a maximum range of two miles, concluding that the aircraft must have been well inside its 12-mile territorial airspace.
The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, claims that the aircraft was struck by antiaircraft fire outside Syrian airspace. (But see below) “Our plane was hit in international airspace,” he said according to the Times, “13 nautical miles out of Syria, when Syrian territorial space is 12 miles.”
Quoting the Syrian Arab News Agency and Turkish officials, the Times graphically presents the “conflicting stories” offered by the two sides.
The map shows the path of the Turkish plane, according to Syria clearly well within Syrian airspace and with the Syrian version claiming, “As the plane flew at low altitude toward the coast, land-based Syrian antiaircraft batteries fired at it with cannons that have a maximum range of less than two miles. Syrian salvage workers recovered wreckage from the jet showing cannon damage.”
The Turkish version claims:
The jet “mistakenly entered” Syrian airspace over the Mediterranean, but left after Turkish radar operators warned the crew. There was no warning from Syria. Nine minutes later, the jet was struck by a heat-seeking missile at a point 13 nautical miles from the Syrian coast (A).The jet turned toward shore and crashed at this point (B).
[(A) and (B) are references to points on the map.]
In Ankara, on Monday, Prime Minister Erdogan said Turkey had revised its military rules of engagement toward Syria. “Every military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria in a manner that constitutes a security risk or danger would be considered as a threat and would be treated as a military target,” he said in a speech to lawmakers attended by Arab diplomats, according to the Times.
Read more here.
Image: courtesy www.presstv.ir