The downing of the Russian SU-24 on November 24, 2015 by the Turkish Air Force is many things to many people. To the Russians, it is a literal “stab in the back” as identified by Putin. To the Turkish, it is making an example of foreign militaries that violate their air space. To the NATO countries, it is the first time since the 1950s that a Russian aircraft has been shot down by a NATO country. To the writer, it is a prime example of the difficulties faced by combatants in a war zone.
Knowing when to shoot a rifle or fire a missile can have profound and serious consequences. If done correctly, the effects are limited- except in the potential of lives that are saved. If done incorrectly, it can turn an otherwise seemingly-stable situation into a firestorm of raw emotion and reaction.
Service members face an infinite number of shoot/no shoot situations in combat. That is why the Rules of Engagement (ROE) are written in such a way to always afford the service member the right to defend themselves if they feel threatened. In the day and age where enemies do not necessarily wear uniforms, and suicide bombers are a real threat, the feeling of being threatened can be different for each person. That is why it is important to train.
Training should invoke this question often and under varying circumstances. From the civilian that runs away from a soldier, to the one that is throwing bottles or rocks, Soldiers need to have the opportunity to put themselves in these varying circumstances to determine what their right answer is. This will constantly change and evolve, just in the way that service members vary in character and over time. Either way, the challenge of making a decision is the important one. It is far better to train this without the threat of true violence, then to make the wrong decision on the battlefield and face the protests and potential attacks in retribution.
Turkey has reminded us all of this question, because we cannot know what was going through the pilot’s head as he flew behind the SU-24. We can question the pilot’s judgment in attacking a foreign aircraft without first identifying whether or not it was a threat. We can doubt the validity of the threat of an overflight as it was a small peninsula that is claimed to have been flown over, a violation of less than 1.6 km of airspace. We can even question the decision by the government to stand by their decision in defense of their airspace when they have routinely violated Greek airspace over the last few years. In the first month of 2014 alone, Turkish aircraft were reported to violate Greek airspace 1,017 times alone.
So, what is the truth? How should a nation react if they wish their borders to be respected? It goes without saying that they should, of course, return the favor and respect their neighbor’s borders as well. Israel recognized that Russia had also violated their airspace by 1.7km on one occasion, but instead of shooting down the aircraft, they simply escorted it out. The answers are never as cut and dry as we on the ground would like to believe. The reality is generally more vague and confusing. Either way, the events that unfolded on November 24, 2015 will likely result in a continued and significant response from Russia- we would do no less ourselves.
In the future, it is best to consider whether or not Turkey felt that the plane was a direct threat to the country- whether they truly believed the Russian intentions were to bomb Turkey, or whether someone simply made a horrible decision in the alleged 17 seconds that the aircraft was within Turkish territory.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.