LATEST UPDATE 23 MARCH 2014 19:50 UTC (ID SHOT-DOWN MiG) | Turkish Air Force F-16s have shot down a Syrian MiG-23 with an AIM-120 AMRAAM or AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile (AAM) on Sunday 23 March 2014, after the Syrian aircraft apparently violated Turkish air space. Turkish and Syrian sources have confirmed the incident, but have different views on the story.
Turkish prime minister Erdogan himself confirmed the incident. “Our F-16s took off and hit this Syrian plane. Why? Because if you violate my airspace, our slap after this will be hard,” Mr. Erdogan was quoted by the BBC. Syrian sources say the aircraft stayed on their side of the border and that the Turkish action is outright aggression.
Several media report that locals on the ground have seen the aircraft go down on the Syrian side of the Turkish-Syrian border, allegedly near the village of Kasab. The faith of the pilot is unknown, but some say he might have ejected. The Turkish Air Force (Türk Hava Kuvvetleri) later released the identity of the downed aircraft: a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23, part of a pair of two. According to the Turks around 11:00 UTC the MiG-23s were warned four times they came too close to the border. One of them eventually entered Turkish airspace, with a THK F-16 launching one of its AAMs. The Syrian Air Force officially has about 130 Russian-made MiG-23 (МиГ-23, aka Flogger) on strength, but it is unclear how many are airworthy.
Combat Air Patrol
According to the BBC the Syrian aircraft was attacking Syrian government-opposing positions in the Latakia region, which means the Turkish F-16s were flying a routine Combat Air Patrol (CAP) mission either from Konya or from Dyarbakir. If from Konya the Vipers are assigned to 132 Filo “Hançer”, which flies Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 40s and the dinosaur McDonnell Douglas F-4E-2020. If from Dyarbakir it could be F-16s from either 181 Filo “Pars” or 182 Filo “Atmaca”, both flying F-16C/D Block 40s.
North of Latakia there is a long piece of Turkish territory stretching about 50 miles (80 km) north-south, with about 25 miles (40 km) west-east. That makes any interception in that area by the Turkish Air Force not the result of an so-called Alpha Scramble, but off a decision made during a routine CAP. Unless the scramble was done after earlier violations of Turkish airspace or unless the aircraft launched from Inçirlik on an accidental or pre-planned forward deployment. Inçirlik is normally home to only Turkish KC-135R tanker aircraft of 101 Filo, and serves as a forward operating and support base for transcontinental US military flights and regional missions.
With the conflict between Syrian international conflict lasting for a long time now, it has not been the first time the Turkish and Syrian military have been in confrontation with each other with both sides apparently violating each others airspace every now and then. A Turkish F-4 Phantom II was shot down over the Mediterranean in June 2012 by Syrian air defences, Turkish fighter jets downed a Syrian Mil Mi-17 helicopter in September 2013. Although these incidents look bad, both the Turkish and Syrian governments don’t want to let their border confrontations escalate into a full-scale war.
The Syrian air losses of the conflict between the Syrian Armed Forces and groups of Syrian people or rebels wanting to get rid of the current government is causing more and more destruction and harm. For the air forces alone the confirmed losses during the civil war so far are at least 10 aircraft: 1 MiG-23 fighter-bombers, 2 MiG-21 fighters, 2 L-39ZA Albatros light attack and advanced training aircraft, 1 Mi-8 tactical transport helicopter, 1 Su-22 attack aircraft and 2 Mi-17 medium transport helicopters, plus the loss of Sunday’s aircraft. Other sources say the Syrian government lost already 25 jet aircraft and almost 40 helicopters.
© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger