Why Turkey is buying a weapons system that could shoot down its own planes

WASHINGTON D.C. - The reason behind Turkey’s insistence on ordering a Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system may be that it wants to be able to shoot down its own planes, a policy brief from the Foundation to Defend Democracies said.

Unlike NATO-built alternatives, analyst Boris Zilberman wrote, the S-400s will be able to shoot down planes belonging to NATO allies, or its own air force. This is exactly what President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants after two Turkish F-16 fighter jets shadowed his plane as last year’s coup attempt unwound, and could have easily shot him down.

Erdoğan understands full well from his close encounter with two of those F-16s that he cannot allow such freedom of movement in Turkey’s air space in a moment of crisis. It is very likely that the troops who will receive training to operate the S-400s will be those with the strongest loyalty to Erdoğan and, in the event of a coup, be prepared to turn the S-400s on Turkish planes.

Zilberman also said the Turkish government was looking to have the system delivered as early as possible, another sign that Erdoğan might be looking to use them to protect his own position in the short-term.

He also pointed out another reason why the deal is proceeding with such haste: the state of the Turkish Air Force in the aftermath of heavy purges following the failed coup:

Second, as Turkish defence analyst Can Kasapoglu has correctly spelled out, Ankara currently has less than one pilot for every available fighter jet in its Air Force. By increasing the military’s ground-based defenses against enemy aircraft, Erdoğan can compensate for its lack of potency in the air.