July 15 (UPI) -- Deliveries of Russia's S-400 defense system to Turkey, despite U.S. objections, could cause a permanent rift between the United States and Turkey, observers said on Monday.
Components of the long-range air and missile defense system began arriving on Friday and continued on Saturday and Sunday.
Seven Russian cargo aircraft arrived at Ankara's Murted Air Base by Sunday evening, and the Turkish Defense Ministry said on Sunday that two more planes were expected within the day. About 120 anti-aircraft missiles are expected to arrive by the end of the summer.
The sophisticated S-400 system, which became operational in 2007, is designed to destroy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles, including medium-range ones.
The S-400 system can hit targets at a distance of round 250 miles and at an altitude up to around 22 miles. Ankara signed a $2.5 billion deal with Moscow in April 2017 to the dissatisfaction of the United States, which had warned of repercussions if the deal went through.
The United States has since threatened to impose sanctions against Turkey and cancel sales of U.S.-made F-35 jets as federal officials have voiced concern over Russia gaining access to its fighter aircraft technology. The United States has also said it would move manufacturing of parts for the aircraft out of the country.
The arrival of the equipment could signal the end of the U.S. relationship with Turkey, a NATO ally, and prompt a new round of sanctions against Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been at odds with Washington over the civil war in Syria and other issues, insists that his country has a sovereign right to buy the Russian air defense system, despite objections from the United States and other NATO members.
Russian engineers installing the system could spy on American-made fighter jets that fly out of the U.S. Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, it is believed, and the purchase can be seen as an attempt by Moscow to undermine NATO, U.S. officials say.
The radar and surface-to-air missiles of the S-400 are not compatible with NATO military equipment, and NATO will no longer have an integrated air defense network if Turkey deploys the system, U.S. defense officials said.
"We are heading into a major crisis in U.S.-Turkish relations. I don't think it's going to get better any time soon," said Eric Edelman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Turkey from 2003 to 2005. In the event of a conflict between the United States and Iran, it is seen as unlikely that Turkey, once regarded as a beacon of democracy in the Muslim world, would allow U.S. use of air bases on its territory.
"I have a hard time seeing the U.S. getting access to Incirlik for offensive operations inside of Iran," Ilan Goldenberg, former White House official in the Obama administration, said.
U.S. sanctions against Turkey, under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Program, are a possibility. In June, several Turkish aerospace manufacturing companies were removed from the process of supplying components for Lockheed-Martin's F-35 fighter planes.
"There is strong bipartisan US congressional determination to see CAATSA sanctions imposed on Turkey if Turkey acquires the S-400," Ellen Lord, under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters at the Pentagon last month.
In a bipartisan statement, several members of the U.S. Senate condemned Turkey's action. "By accepting delivery of the S-400 from Russia, President Erdogan has chosen a perilous partnership with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin at the expense of Turkey's security, economic prosperity and the integrity of the NATO alliance," Senators Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said in the statement.
The Department of Defense has yet to comment on delivery of the S-400 system.