Could Turkey’s S-400 Air-Defense Systems Head to Ukraine? There have been some very “informal” suggestions that Turkey consider supplying Ukraine with the S-400 “Triumf” air-defense systems that Ankara purchased from Moscow in 2017. U.S. officials at the State Department have reportedly floated the idea over the past month with their Turkish counterparts.
In addition, the Biden administration has reached out to various allies that are employing Russian-made military hardware, most notably the S-300, and S-400 platforms, and are encouraging that these systems somehow be sent to Ukraine. Such a transfer wouldn’t be without numerous logistical hurdles to clear, including how to actually get the mobile launchers to the Ukrainians – and it should be noted that this request comes even as the United States has nixed the idea of Poland’s supplying Ukraine with its fleet of MiG-29 combat aircraft.
So why is the State Department even considering such an idea? Simply put, it would solve two problems.
First, the air-defense systems could provide Ukraine with a powerful platform in its war against Russia. The long-and-medium surface-to-air missile system was designed to destroy aircraft, cruise, and ballistic missiles, while it can also be targeted to strike ground installations. The S-400, which can be used to launch 40N6 missiles, was developed to engage targets at a distance of up to 400 kilometers. Its missiles can reach up to six times the speed of sound, and have an altitude of up to thirty kilometers, making it hard to counter. That could allow Kyiv to be equipped with a strong air defense, but also have an offensive platform to strike targets even within Russia!
The other consideration is that Washington never wanted Ankara to purchase the S-400 from Russia, and as a result, expelled Turkey from the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. U.S. and NATO officials have warned the Turkish military that the Russian system is incompatible with the fifth-generation stealth fighter, and concerns that the security of the aircraft could even be compromised as a result of Turkey’s attempts to operate both platforms.
By convincing Turkey to supply its four S-400s, which it only took delivery of in 2019, to Ukraine would thus solve both of those problems.
Turkey Isn’t On Board
Turkish analysts told Reuters that any suggestion of a transfer of the S-400s would be a non-starter for Ankara, citing a variety of issues that include dealing with blowback from Moscow. However, it is possible that Turkiye could be enticed if it could get back in the F-35 program, while the U.S. could also offer the Patriot PAC-3 air-defense platform.
For Turkey, it might want to consider what it really has to lose.
Moscow is already not happy that Ukraine has been equipped with the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones, which have been used in multiple attacks on Russian ground forces. Ukraine had even deployed the unmanned aerial systems against a pro-Russian separatist group’s artillery position in the Donbas region last October. Following that strike, Russia protested, but Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisted that when a country buys Turkey’s drones, they are “no longer a Turkish product.”
In addition, Turkey and Russia have supported different interests in Syria, while Ankara wouldn’t benefit in the least should Russia actually gain control of Ukraine. Russia already sees the Black Sea as its personal lake, and that issue would only be magnified if Russia is victorious. Turkey should remember that Russia had eyed expansion that including taking the historic city of Constantinople – today’s Istanbul – as it would allow its Black Sea Fleet warships to operate without restrictions.
If Ukraine were to acquire the S-400 from Turkey, or even another operator, it would certainly be interesting to see if Moscow would lodge any protest. After the United States, Russia is the largest exporter of military hardware – and it is already taking fire from Soviet-era small arms and other equipment employed by Ukraine.
The S-400 has also been widely exported, much to the detriment of the United States and NATO. The United States has even imposed economic sanctions on countries, including Turkey, simply for buying the system, but many of the world’s powers have continued to express interest in it. If the U.S. and NATO have their way, some of those exported systems will be sent to Ukraine and used against Russia.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.