Erdogan had called a meeting with his political opposition leaders to discuss the situation and it was during this meeting that the photograph was shown.
It’s at least unusual to find two pairs of boots but not any potential bodies or remains, unless the pilots Capt. Gokhan Ertan and Lt. Huseyin Aksoy removed the boots once they took to their life raft. Anyway, too much time has passed since they ejected and the probability to find them alive, after so many days is extremely low.
In other developments, Hurriyet also ran an article stating that Syrian officials knew that the jet that was Turkish. Turkish intelligence units say they have recordings of the Syrian forces referring to the jet by the word ‘Komsu’ which is Turkish for “Neighbor” followed by the Arabic word for plane.
The intel agents also went on to state that the F-4 had its IFF (identification, friend or foe) system switched on meaning that it would have been picked up by the radar stations (even the Syrian ones – this is normal, for “normal flights”; it’s unusual for covert missions that don’t fly with a switched on transponder in order to not “advertise” their position to radars).
This would seem to indicate that Turkey is monitoring Syrian government forces very closely, by recording their radio “chatter” and it could be argued performing aerial reconnaissance of the area.
However, Ankara insists the Phantom was shot down by a Surface to Air Missile, that hit the RF-4E as it was 13 nautical miles off the Syrian coast (hence, in international airspace). The report of the another RF-4E flying alongside the downed one as well as their own recorded radar data could be used by Turkey to prove its version of the episode.
Furthermore, it has come to light that a Turkish Search and Rescue aircraft also came under fire whilst searching the area for the crashed Phantom and its crew, and it was forced to immediately leave the Syrian airspace after the shots.
According to SANA wreckage from the jet, the tail end had been handed to the Turkish authorities with an official record which shows holes which had come from a heavy calibre machine gun. Obviously none of this has been confirmed by the Turkish authorities: Turkish media states that the aircraft has been located in 1,300 meteRs of water but it has not yet been recovered.
Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti
That’s why the rebels have put the instructions on how to shoot down an helicopter on-line: the Syrian Revolution 2011 page on Facebook (with about 514K likes) has published a short text that provides hints on how to target a chopper.
Here’s a (rough) translation (provided by Bing)
To all free people free national army …I’ve observed recently that some of the rebels are targeting aircraft alasdet as if they had parked in the air! Any that are targeted directly without taking account of space and time which will reach the plane and shot/shell at the same time!.In fact this is known for both served in the air force and Army aviation use, but to deliver this information to both HSS and the rebels and especially for newcomers to our free hero; we Dear Heroes to leave some distance between the plane and the access point, so that the shot hit the target in the appropriate place and time.The picture below shows a correction and payment when you reference x. And then the plane will arrive and she shot/shell, so drop goal.The seasoned in correction and drop aircraft can estimate the distance accurately, but affiliated with new free army needs to train and practice and awareness. Valnnshar dear HSS this image to all activists and perhaps up to members of the rebel army stationed on the fronts free in most Syrian cities.
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.
At 11:40 AM on 22/6/2012, an unidentified aerial target violated Syrian airspace, coming from the west at a very low altitude and at high speed over territorial waters, so the Syrian anti-air defenses counteracted with anti-aircraft artillery, hitting it directly as it was 1 kilometer away from land, causing it to crash into Syrian territorial waters west of Om al-Tuyour village in Lattakia province, 10 kilometers from the beach.
Noteworthy, an image showing the actual route flown by the downed aircraft was released.
This is much interesting because, if genuine, it shows that the F-4 was circling off the Syrian coast before it headed towards the coast at low altitude and it was downed by the Anti-Aircraft Artillery fire.
As suggested by some readers, the RF-4E was probably carrying an Elbit’s LOROP reconnaissance system that gives the aircraft the ability to gather hi-rez imagery in both visible and IR spectrums at ranges up to 100 km from the target.
Late on the afternoon (Central European Time) of Jun. 22, media outlets started to report that a Turkish Air Force F-4 Phantom has disappeared over the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, near its shared border with Syria.
The Phantom had left Erhac Air Base at around 07.30GMT and disappeared off radar around 09.00 GMT.
Reports came out of Turkey soon after saying that Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan had claimed that Syria had apologised for shooting down the jet, however at a press conference he told the gathered reporters that he could not confirm reports that Syria had shot down the jet and had apologised.
Later, Erdogan confirmed that the plane was shot down, that the crew fate is still uncertain and that Turkey will take all necessary measures ‘decisively’ once all details of incident emerge.
The early reports stated that the F-4 had disappeared off radar screen flying over international waters but had crashed into waters that were in Syrian territory near to the town of Latakia, prompting Turkish authorities to request permission to send their forces into the area to search for the two missing pilots. The press association are quoting Hebollah’s Manar TV as saying Syrian air defences had shot the jet down citing unnamed Syrian security sources.
Latest reports say that both Turkish and Syrian gunboats are searching the sea in the area where the jet is thought to have come down but the news on the pilots is conflicting: some saying they have been picked up, others stating they are still missing.
Turkish Prime Minister Erodgan has called an emergency security meeting and will be attended by top military and intelligence officials.
Turkey is part of NATO and could in theory invoke Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty where all of the 28 member countries should come to the aid of a member under attack.
All of the above paints a very confusing picture of events over the eastern Mediterranean Sea on the day after a Syrian Mig-21 defected to Jordan.
First of all, it’s still unclear which type of aircraft was downed (or simply crashed) and what kind of mission the aircraft was flying when it was downed: the Turkish Air Force operates a mixed fleet of F-4E-2020 Terminator, RF-4E/TM Isik upgraded Recce Phantoms, and F-4E/TM Simsek. Although it has yet to be confirmed, the aircraft (flying with another F-4 of the same type) was probably a Recce Phantom on an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) mission.
In simple words: it was spying on Assad forces in the North of Syria.
Then, if it was really shot down by a Syrian SAM (Surface to Air Missile) battery, which kind of missile hit the Phantom?
According to rumors, it was an SA-5 Gammon (S-200) a long range medium to high-altitude mobile SAM produced by the Soviets in the ’60s. Five SA-5 sites are known to be active in Syria.
The (aging) system (very well known to NATO in terms of capability, range, operating radio frequencies, signature, etc.) uses radio semi active guidance with terminal active radar homing. With a peak speed of around Mach 8 a single-shot kill probability is quoted as 0.85, presumably against a high altitude heavy bomber-type of target, should be less against a fast maneuvering combat plane.
Therefore, connecting the dots, the RF-4 was most probably flying outside the Syrian airspace at high altitude on a recce mission (still, there’s a residual chance it was a flight of F-4Es on a mission aimed at testing the Syrian air defense readiness). It was downed by an SA-5 shot that proved that this kind of missile can be lethal even if fired by accident by personnel believed to be not so very well trained (this being a serious issue should NATO eventually decide to establish a No-Fly Zone over Syria).
Update Jun. 22, 2012 22.46 GMT
According to the spokesman of the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the aircraft was gunned down by anti-aircraft fire as the aircraft was flying 1 km off the coast of Syria.
A video allegedly showing the air defense battery firing at the Phantom (and bringing it down with a very short burst..) was posted on Youtube.
If this video is genuine (no aircraft can be spotted), the scenario changes a lot: the F-4 was flying well inside the Syrian air space at low/medium altitude when the Syrian Air Defense (most probably on a heightened alert status to prevent any other defection) shot it down.
The Aviationist will update this story as when new facts come out.
Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti