Turkish Phantom shot down in Syria update: it may have violated the Syrian airspace to probe the air defenses readiness

Jun 25 2012 - 11 Comments

According to the latest news about the Turkish F-4 shot down by a Syrian Air Defense battery on Jun. 22, the North Atlantic Council will meet on Tuesday Jun. 26, following a request by Turkey under article 4 of NATO’s founding Treaty.

Under article 4 of the Treaty, any ally can request consultation whenever, in the opinion of any of them, their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.

The problem is that Turkey says the unarmed combat plane (173Filo/7Aju) from Erhac, shot down by the Syrian military was engaged without warning.

The aircraft was testing a domestic radar system and was fired at upon leaving Syrian airspace, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said. He also confirmed that the aircraft did enter Syrian airspace before being engaged by the Syrian Anti-Aircraft Artillery, although it had happened by mistake.

As explained on several posts of the Airspace Violations series, aircraft violating a foreign airspace should not be fired upon but warned, intercepted and eventually escorted outside the violated airspace. Anyway, what is still far from being explained is the reason why an (R)F-4 was flying at low level and high-speed just 1 km off the Syrian coast. There are at least three possibilities: navigation error, weather, or intentional violation to probe the enemy air defense readiness.

Although the navigation error can’t never be ruled out a priori, considering the equipment carried by the aircraft, the fact that there are two crew members in a Phantom and, above all, that the plane was flying next to a “danger zone” there’s reason to believe that the two on board were perfectly aware of their position.

What is particularly interesting is the altitude at which the plane was flying when it entered the Syrian airspace. It was extremely low (and it was most probably gunned optically, with no radar lock). As a NATO pilot told me “when you are flying at hi-speed low-altitude you are either performing a rather awkward attempt to penetrate the enemy airspace to use the onboard sensors or to keep below the cloud cover. However, since flying an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) mission at low level and less than 12 nautical miles from the coast is almost useless, I think they were probing the Syrian air defense. And I think that they now have a good idea of their readiness status that is, among the others, one of the most interesting things we can learn from the incident.”

Although they most probably knew that the aircraft was a Turkish Air Force plane, the Syrians may have mistaken it for a defecting Syrian Arab Air Force plane. Hence they shot it down before it could reach Turkey, to prevent another embarrassing episode like the one of the Mig-21 that defected to Jordan.

Even if one might believe that buzzing the enemy airspace to test its reaction time or actively disturbing the enemy training activities is something rare, it is not for Turkey or Syria according to what the NATO pilot told to The Aviationist:

“Few years ago, I was flying as a backseater of a Turkish combat plane during a Taceval at Diyarbakir. Our route brought us along the border with Syria and for almost all that leg of our flight our radio communication were (actively) disturbed. Since the jamming of the radio communications was not planned for that kind of mission, it was most probably the effect of a direct action of the Syrian armed forces.”

In the meantime, the fuselage and ejection seats were located (meaning that both pilots have ejected) but they were not recovered yet.

Their names were made public as Captain Gökhan Ertan and Lieutenant Hasan Hüseyin Aksoy.

Image credit: TuAF

  • http://gravatar.com/rhines Andy

    Interesting point. Additionally, the weather explanation does not hold water if you consider the wx and satellite obs for 22 June: http://wxug.us/ps8m
    The Lattakia airport even reported CAVOK (Ceiling and Visibility OK — no clouds, >10km visibility) early in the morning on Friday.

  • http://web.reed.edu Andrew Rhines

    Interesting point. Additionally, the weather explanation does not hold water if you consider the wx and satellite obs for 22 June: http://wxug.us/ps8m
    The Lattakia airport even reported CAVOK (Ceiling and Visibility OK — no clouds, >10km visibility) early in the morning on Friday.

  • AR

    With the current situation in Syria, I would think the air defences are probably nervous about being bombed by NATO forces, in addition to the embarrassment of defecting pilots.

    Could it be possible that the Turkish air force is/was performing recon for possible Nato air strikes like those performed against Libyan forces?

    It seems to me that probing Syrian air space “for no good reason” is not a good idea at the moment. Is it also possible that the Turks underestimated the Syrian air defences? foreignpolicy.com recently linked to an old piece written about the poor experience of one conscriptet Syrian soldier. http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/06/22/the_best_thing_ever_written_about_syrian_air_defenses

  • Richard Clements

    This all reminds me of the Gulf of Sidra incidents, although on those two occations it was aircraft that did the shooting rather than AA-artillery, F-14 vs Su-22’s in 1981 and then again F-14’s vs Mig-23’s in 1989
    http://www.military-heat.com/64/gulf-sidra-incident-1989/

  • Fred

    Interesting article from Debkafile that suggests the F4 was taken out by a Pantsyr 1 SAM…
    http://www.debka.com/article/22112/Newly-supplied-Russian-Pantsyr-1-anti-air-missile-used-to-down-Turkish-warplane

  • dude

    neutral recon mission gone wrong? hardly, maybe.

    wild weasel adventure? hell no!

    those claims still sounds nonsense, probing any air defence network with a “solo flying unarmed recce phantom” still sounds “too unprofessional and random” for turkish airforce.

  • greenalien

    Hi, I just read your post. It ought to be pointed out that you operate under the wrong assumption that the airplane was indeed flying 1km away from the beach and only couple hundred metres above the ground level. This is actually only the information given by the regime in Damascus, and does not necessarily have a bearing upon the actual reality.

    You might want to attach a disclaimer to your article.

  • Canbeiro

    A 4th possibility : Syrian regime is lying again. Its official version is that the Turkish warplane was heading towards the coast, 1 to 2 km from the Syrian coast, when was hit with an anti-aircraft missile and crashed in Syrian territorial waters.

    My comment : If it was heading to the coast, at 1 to 2 km from the coast, the higher chances are it should drop in the continent, not in the sea.

    • Emery

      How do you know were it was or what direction it was moving? Somebody in the lying media told you? Grow up.

  • http://twitter.com/shekissesfrogs Iguana Keeper (@shekissesfrogs)

    Great article but one nit pic. Syrians aren’t arabs per say. They are Assyrians, Turks, Kurds, Phoenicians- Mediterranean. Arabs are from the Arabian Peninsula.

  • Emery

    There is a low quality video on uTube showing the shoot down from the perspective of people on the beach. It was flying low and fast and engaged by AAA. You can hear the firing from the battery and see the plane crash. So end of story as far as the US NATO Turkey lies go. They provoked the incident and the question why is obvious. Same reason they are pouring arms to terrorists in Syria just like they did in Lybia. They want an excuse to start killing more Muslims for the Jews. Its a poor excuse and pretext but Americans are stupid and will believe anything their lying government and media tell them. Welcome to WW III started by the US Zionist nutballs. But Syria is no Libya and a lot of people will die in this stupid war for the New World Order. We are on the side of wrong again. Frankly I’m embarrassed to be an American anymore. The evil empire is about to self destruct because of nonsense like this.