Russia v. Turkey: What Really Happened to the Russian Plane

By Roksana Khort This piece solely expresses the opinion of […]

By Roksana Khort
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. 

On 24 November 2015 the world was shaken by the news that Turkish Air Forces shot down Russian aircraft Sukhoy SU-24 on the territory of Syria. Given that this action is controversial by itself, the factual background and arguments laid down by the Turkish Government are even more controversial. The situation, therefore, well deserves a more detailed examination.

Time and distance

The biggest concern arises from the time and distance data, provided by the Turkish authorities. Turkish UN Ambassador, the official representative of the Turkish position on the matter, claimed that Russian jet “had flown a mile into Turkey for 17 seconds”. Does this argument look well-grounded? Not exactly, if basic mathematic calculations are applied. No physical law can explain how an aircraft, the average speed of which is slightly less than 500 meters per second, can fly a mile for 17 seconds. That is a maximum speed of Porsche Carrera, not of a supersonic aircraft.

In the real world, the one-mile distance should have been covered by the SU-24 in 3-3,5 seconds. The data, referred to by the Turkish Government, now appearing in all official statements and NATO reports, and being multiplied by the media in thousands of articles and different overviews, has nothing to do with the reality. Surprisingly, such rough figures did not provoke reasonable questions as to their accuracy. This fact leaves us wondering, to what extent can one rely on any other technical information, provided by the Turkish Government in justification of the destruction of the Russian aircraft, if even basic time-distance calculations are so grossly incorrect?


The Turkish Government insisted that the Russian aircraft posed threat to safety of the State and therefore was subject to destruction. This argument has little to no grounds, if we take a close look to the radar image, the only material proof provided by Turkey. The picture bears no information as to the place, date and time when it was taken. As a matter of fact, it is very unconvincing that this picture can be attributable to the trajectory of the Russian SU-24 particularly. Nevertheless, this radar image will still be analyzed hereby.

The trajectory of the Russian aircraft clearly speaks for itself. The mild parallel lines of the jet trajectory show that the crew of SU-24 had no intention to move far inland and by any means sabotage Turkish military forces. The Turkish border in this part of the region is uneven and has a steep angle downwards. Given that the speed of Sukhoy SU-24 is around 1500-1600 km/h, operation carried out above the mountainous terrain could hypothetically result in a navigation mistake and lead to an accidental crossing of the Turkish border. However, how could Turkish Air Forces possibly predict that this accidental crossing would happen and, as a response, instantly concentrate its jets in the cross-border area airspace, if nothing in the Russian aircraft’s trajectory indicated it?

Turkish warnings and the fatal missile

Nothing in behavioral pattern of the jet crew indicated that the Russian SU-24 – even in case of the border crossing – received a number of warnings before the fatal missile was launched. However, according to the Turkish Air Force officials, they “issued 10 warnings over a five-minute period” prior to the attack. The only survivor of the SU-24, the air navigator Captain Konstantin Murakhtin, stated that there were no warnings from the Turkish Air Forces whatsoever. Nevertheless, the attack came entirely unexpected on the terrain the Captain Murakhtin knew impeccably, as impeccably as he knew the Turkish border demarcation. Be it differently, the Russian jet crew would have taken an attempt to immediately change its course, if they suspected the attack to be performed.

Taking into consideration these 17 seconds during which the Russian jet was claimed to be crossing the Turkish airspace, Turkish Air Forces could not have reacted so swiftly, unless the action was planned in advance. How could the jet crew get prepared, then take off and arrive to the strategic point all in 17 seconds? This is clearly impossible, considering the fact that the Turkish F-16s took off from Diyarbakir airbase, which is more than 400 km away from the point, where it downed Russian SU-24. Moreover, in order to strike, the Turkish fighter jet itself had deepened into the Syrian airspace, remaining in its two mile cross-border zone for 40 seconds, where it performed the missile launch.

The border violations are, in fact, a common thing for Turkey. Its military jets often appear on the sovereign territory of Greece, creating hostile environment and increasing tension between the countries. The same tension has been existing between Turkey and Syria for many years, culminated when Syria shot down Turkish Phantom F-4, when it violated Syrian airspace in June 2012. Surprisingly, at that time Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a different view on public security being affected by airspace invasions, especially when they were committed by Turkish military jets. In response, the Prime Minister Erdogan emphasized: “Even if the plane was in their airspace for a few seconds, that is no excuse to attack”. Unfortunately, this rhetoric tends to change as the situation requires, and reverses depending on who is “the violator”.


The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.

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