Syrian Air Defense Force Attack on Turkish Reconnaissance Aircraft

On Friday, 22 June, at approximately 11:45 local time, a Syrian air defense artillery battery engaged and shot down a Turkish Air Force RF-4E reconnaissance aircraft.  The Turkish RF-4E was overwater when it was shot down off the Syrian coast near Latakia.  Although the Turkish and Syrian navies immediately engaged in a combined search and rescue effort, neither the pilot nor the backseat systems operator was rescued.  This backgrounder provides a technical description of the Turkish RF-4E, the Syrian air defenses, analysis of the differing radar snapshots provided by Syria and Turkey, and analysis of the current situation. 

Technical Background

Turkish RF-4E

  • The RF-4E is a two seat, supersonic reconnaissance aircraft equipped with high resolution cameras.
  • US manufactured, it entered service with Turkish Air Force in 1978.
  • It is easy to detect, track, and target due to large radar cross section and no stealth characteristics.
  • The Turkish Air Force website indicates they operate 54 total RF-4E aircraft, but no longer operate the combat model of the F-4.
  • The approximately 150 combat capable F-4 aircraft the Turkish Air Force acquired between 1978 and 1991 have probably been used for replacement parts for the F-4E.

Syrian Air Defense Force (ADF)

  • ADF is an independent command of the Syrian Defense Forces.
  • ADF operates what is known in the West as an Integrated Air Defense System (IADS).
  • IADS consists of geographically dispersed radars, Surface to Air Missile (SAM) sites, Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) guns and Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) that are networked and able to share radar and targeting data.
  • Syrian ADF operates the SAM components of the IADS; Syrian Army operates the AAA and MANPADS components of the IADS.
  • Although mobile elements of the IADS, such as vehicle mounted AAA guns and MANPADS, are not continuously linked with the IADS, they still provide capability.
  • Syrian IADS is equipped with a mix of legacy Soviet and modern Russian systems.
  • Syrian IADS shot down a US Navy A-6 over Lebanon in 1983.
  • Although Syrian IADS equipment is old, it is assessed by General James Mattis, Commander, US Central Command, as very capable and “extremely challenging.”

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