The Turkish defense establishment silence on the S-400 air defense systems (ADS)’s missile interception test last week reveals more than it hides and could be indicative of a possible thawing of relations with Washington.
Ankara has refused to either acknowledge or deny that it had tested its S-400 ADS on October 16 from its missile test facility in Sinop province on the Black Sea, where it was delivered earlier this month with British-made Banshee drones for use as targets.
The United States’ reaction to Turkey’s reported firing test of the S-400 air defence system (ADS) can be described as muted as best. "The U.S. Department of Defense is aware of reports of a possible test of the S-400 air defense system by Turkey. If accurate, the Department strongly condemns the test," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said. "We object to Turkey's purchase of the system, and are deeply concerned with reports that Turkey is bringing it into operation. It should not be activated. Doing so risks serious consequences for our security relationship. Turkey has already been suspended from the F-35 program and the S-400 continues to be a barrier to progress elsewhere in the bilateral relationship," Hoffman said.
Significantly, the normally vociferous Trump administration has not commented on the launch and no sanctions have been slapped on Turkey as yet. In contrast, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions against Chinese shipping entities for dealing with Iran a day after the UN arms embargo expired against Tehran.
Reports of test were confirmed by the Russian defense establishment a source from which told TASS on October 16, "Three missiles of the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system were launched. All of them successfully hit the designated targets."
The test firing could not have escaped confirmation from US spy satellites monitoring the region when amateur video of the launch, held soon after midday was widely shared over the internet. It is interesting to note that the Pentagon is still waiting to ensure that reports of the launch are “accurate.”
The US has gone as far as to remove Turkey as a customer of the F-35 jets, though it continues to receive Turkey manufactured parts which is expected to go on at least till March 2022. The United States has imported $531.1 million worth defense goods from Turkey during the first nine months of 2020, official Turkish data has revealed which itself tells its own story.
An October 6, 2020 contract which GE Marine engines signed with Turkey’s STM to provide LM2500 gas turbines to power Pakistan Navy’s new MILGEM corvettes (which STM is building) is further indicative of Washington’s softening stance against Ankara. In the past, the US has denied permission for the sale of T800-4As engines built by LHTEC, a joint venture between Rolls-Royce and Honeywell for installation on the ATAK helicopter for export to Pakistan.
On July 17 the US House of Representatives passed the Countering Russia’s Export of Arms Act with bipartisan support, which would designate the acquisition of the S-400 by Turkey as “a significant transaction pursuant to Section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).”
Not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall, pursuant to section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, impose five or more of the sanctions described in section 235 of such Act (22 USC 8 9529) with respect to the Government of Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 air and missile defense system from the Russian Federation, the bill approved in the House of Representatives stipulates.
US President Donald Trump refrained from imposing harsh CAATSA sanctions on Turkey at the time, restricting the country’s reaction to eliminating Turkey from the F-35 program.
Does this mean that the Trump administration has further eased off on cracking the whip against Turkey? Ankara would not have take definitive step of testing the S-400, from which it had refrained for nearly a year, without some kind of a green signal from Washington.