Tag Archives: Syrian Arab Air Force

"Turkish F-4 gunned down by anti-aircraft artillery inside the Syrian airspace" U.S. intelligence says

The Turkish RF-4E shot down by Syria on Jun. 22, was probably gunned by a shore-based anti-aircraft artillery battery while it was flying inside the Syrian airspace.

Therefore, the U.S. version of the episode is in tune with the Syrian account (at least for what deals with the position of the aircraft when it was hit) of the mishap, rather than the Turkish one.

This is what the U.S. intelligence/defense sources indicated to the Wall Street Journal that, in an article published on Jun. 29, also confirmed The Aviationist’s early hypothesis that the Turkish Phantom was flying a mission aimed at probing Damascus air defenses.

Although how the American officials have gathered specific details about the position of the plane remains a sort-of mystery (an ISR – Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance – and/or an AEW – Airborne Early Warning platform spying Syrian activities might have recorded something) such embarrassing discrepancies emerge while Ankara amasses rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns along its border with Syria as a reaction to the downing of its fighter jet (whose crew members have not been recovered yet).

TuAF RF-4E Phantom II

Image credit: Turkish Air Force

"Turkish Phantom shot down because Syrian soldiers may have confused it for an Israeli plane" Syrian Information Minister says

Although much of what has happened on Jun. 22, when a Turkish Air Force RF-4E from Erhac was shot down by a Syrian air defense battery remains a mystery, at least the reasons why the aircraft was fired at after violating the Syrian airspace were (possibly) disclosed on Jun. 27, when the Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zubi.

Indeed, as reported by the Times of Israel, the minister told the Turkish news station A Haber, that Syrian personnel operating the anti-aircraft site may have confused the Turkish RF-4E for an Israeli Phantom, even if the Israeli Air Force has decommissioned the last F-4 in 2004.

“Turkish planes and Israeli planes look alike […] If an Israeli plane enters Syria, it is welcomed by fire. [The Turkish plane] might have been believed to be an Israeli plane; we did not want to take down a Turkish plane,” he said.

However, according to the information made public by the Turkish authorities, based on intercepted radio comms, the aircraft was clearly identified as Turkish before being downed (outside the Syrian airspace, according to Ankara’s version)

Whereas the Turkish and Syrian reconstructions of the mishap are still conflicting, Syria had previously claimed the downing of the Turkish jet (possibly involved in a mission aimed at probing Damascus air defenses near the Syrian territorial waters) was an accident caused by the “automatic response” of the officer commanding the anti-aircraft position near Lattakia.

Furthermore, the aircraft might have been downed by a new Iranian-made anti-aircraft gun whose presence was not known to the Turkish aircrew according to several Syrian news outlets.

As reported by Ynet News, Damascus purchased the new system, that can be mounted on armored vehicles and can engage planes at very low altitudes, two years ago.

TuAF RF-4E Phantom II

Image credit: Turkish Air Force

Turkish Phantom shot down by Syria saga continues as new details about the mysterious shooting emerge

On Jun. 26, NATO held a meeting of its 28 members at the request of Turkey under article 4 of the Washington treaty following the downing of the Turkish Air Force RF-4E Phantom by a Syrian Air Defense battery on Jun.22.

After the meeting NATO released the following statement:

The North Atlantic Council has met at Turkey’s request to hold consultations within the framework of Article 4 of the Washington Treaty which states that “the Parties will consult whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of any of the Parties is threatened.”

The North Atlantic Council discussed the shooting down of a Turkish aircraft by Syria. We consider this act to be unacceptable and condemn it in the strongest terms. It is another example of the Syrian authorities’ disregard for international norms, peace and security, and human life.

Our thoughts at this difficult time are with the missing  Turkish aircrew, their families and their loved ones. We continue to follow the situation closely and with great concern, and will remain seized of developments on the South-Eastern border of NATO.

The security of the Alliance is indivisible. We stand together with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity.

The New York Times ran an article (later picked up elsewhere) that included a scan of a letter sent from Turkey to the UN.

The letter includes several details that provide a clear view of the Turkish version of the episode.

Firstly the exact position of where the Phantom was hit: 35 48.22N – 35 32.21E which is 13NM from the coast of Syria and therefore in international airspace. This means the aircraft had violated the Syrian airspace but, according to the Turkish authorities, it had already left it when it was shot down at 11.58 local time.

Secondly according to the text of the letter, was flying at 7,400 feet on its own (not part of a pair) and after being hit turned towards the Syrian coast and hit the sea at 35 48.26N – 35 37.59E some 8NM from the coast.

Again the letter states the plane was transmitting its IFF (indentification, friend or foe) transponder and that Turkey has captured radio communications that demonstrates Syrian units knew this was a Turkish plane. The letter also alluded that Turkey may have proof from third party radar stations that could have recorded the route flown by the combat plane.

Noteworthy, the letter does not say that the RF-4ETM (this is the correct designation) was downed by a missile. However, if it was really flying so far from the coast (13 NM) and at medium altitude (7,400 ft), it could not be reached by anti-aircraft artillery flak.

Moreover, the letter confirmed that a search and rescue asset was fired upon whilst searching for the downed aircrew: it was a CASA (thought to be a CN-235) aircraft targeted by anti-aircraft artillery positioned on the Syrian shore.

Letter aside, new details about the mysterious Turkish activity near the Syrian territorial waters have emerged.

As said the aircraft was flying a preplanned route which included several similar patterns (this being one of the few things both parties agree on).

According to the data released by Turkey here’s how the airspace violation developed:

11.42LT: the aircraft “unintentionally” entered the Syrian airspace at 200 feet with a North East heading

11.44LT: a Turkish radar station (most probably the one providing assistance to the flight) issued an airspace violation warning

11.47LT: after turning left (and coming extremely close to the Syrian coast) the RF-4 exited the Syrian airspace

11.50LT: the pilot contacted the Turkish radar to inform it that they would have performed the same profile and asking for positive radar control not to repeat airspace violation.

11.58LT: the Phantom was hit while it was repositioning for a second pattern

Although it is extremely weird that the Syrian air defense shot down the Phantom 15 minutes after it violated the Syrian airspace (according to the Turkish version), it is at least as suspect that a combat plane flying under positive radio and radar contact, possibly under radar control or advisory service, violates a foreign airspace without being warned by its own air traffic control agency well before the violation occurs.

Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti

Image credit: Giovanni Colla

"Turkish Phantom jet fighters [as the one shot down by Syria] routinely violate the Greek airspace." And get locked by SAM sites.

As what really happened on Jun. 22, when a Turkish Air Force RF-4E from Erhac was shot down by a Syrian Air Defense battery, after violating the Syrian airspace, remains a mystery, an interesting video seems to prove that Turkish Phantoms routinely violate the Greek airspace and get locked by the Greek artillery radars.

This is what the Keep Talking Greece blog affirms publishing the following interesting video allegedly showing a Turkish F-4 locked by a Greek SA-8 anti-aircraft system.

“It is almost a daily practice for the Greek artillery that its radars lock Turkish fighter jets as they illegally enter Greek airspace. However Greeks do not push the button….” says the blog.

Was the RF-4E shot down off Syria flying a mission to probe the Damascus air defense system similar to those flown (quite regularly) in the Aegean sea to probe the Greece’s air defenses?

Latest news about the Turkish F-4 shot down by Syria: still conflicting versions. New detail: rescue plane came under fire too.

According to the Turkish media outlet Hurriyet Daily News, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shown photos of two pairs of boots that belonged to the two missing pilots on board the RF-4E shot down by Syria on Jun. 22.

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.

On the other side Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported that the jet had been shot down using anti-aircraft artillery with only a range of 2.5 km (although other media outlets reported the maximum range declared by Damascus as 1.2 km). This would indicate that the jet was a lot closer to the coastline than what Turkey had admitted to.

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

Image credit: Giovanni Colla