US removes Turkey from F-35 program as Erdoğan Doubles Down on Air Defence Deal with Russia

US removes Turkey from F-35 program as Erdoğan Doubles Down on Air Defence Deal with Russia

In an official statement released on July 17, the office of the US White House Press Secretary regretted “Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems” which, from Washington’s perspective, “renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible”.

“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the statement continued.

The press secretary’s office also added that the current administration “has been actively working with Turkey to provide air defense solutions to meet its legitimate air defense needs…” including “multiple offers to move Turkey to the front of the line to receive the U.S. PATRIOT air defense system”.

Despite this, and the fact that “Turkey has been a longstanding and trusted partner and NATO Ally for over 65 years…” the statement reads, “accepting the S-400 undermines the commitments all NATO Allies made to each other to move away from Russian systems.”

The long-running spat between the US and its NATO ally has been brewing for months. It began when Turkey signed a deal with Russia at the end of 2017.

The $2.5bn purchase has been met with warnings from US officials since its announcement.

“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the statement continued.

On July 12th Turkey received the first delivery of the Russian S-400 Triumph air defence system. In light of this, the July 17th statement represents the most vocal and critical condemnation of Washington’s long-running NATO ally.

Part of the concern is based in concerns that Ankara’s access to the two technologies would entail a conflict of interest. As the statement reads, “The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities.”

Al Bawaba reached out to Oxford researcher Samuel Ramani, an expert in Russian foriegn policy, who explained: “The US decision to suspend F-35 sales to Turkey stems from the argument that a country cannot have a flagship U.S. fighter jet and Russian missile defence system together. A promise of an F-35 has typically been used by U.S. policymakers to deter countries from buying the S-400, this occurred in June with India for instance.”

“Turkey has historically been frustrated with inadequate technology sharing from the United States…”

“Turkey has historically been frustrated with inadequate technology sharing from the United States…” Ramani noted, adding that “these sentiments date back to the 1990s when Ankara felt that other NATO members got much more sophisticated technology than them, and U.S. policymakers are seriously concerned that Turkey and Russia will work together on the S-500 system.”

The Turkish administration has been unsurprisingly tight-lipped about where the systems, or ‘regiments’ that are able to neutralize a variety of aerial threats, will be deployed.

U.S. policymakers are seriously concerned that Turkey and Russia will work together on the S-500 system

The US and its legal framework designed to prevent countries from dealing with Russia specifically in purchasing military equipment, Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), means Ankara risks punitive measures as well.

Being excluded from being ability to purchase the next-generation F-35 fighter jet comes in addition to the implementation of any forthcoming CAATSA punitive measures.

Somewhat ironically, the first deployment of S-400 regiments by Russia in Syria is reported to have been following the 2015 downing of Russian Sukhoi Su-24 which Turkey claimed violated its airspace. A diplomatic spat between the two countries ensued. It saw Putin banning travel to Turkey, a prime destination for Russian tourists, which left Turkey’s seaside resorts sparsely populated and the country’s tourist industry ailing. The decision was reversed a few months later with the two countries resuming trade talks.

When an attempted coup was launched against Erdogan in the summer of 2016, Turkish fighter jets flew close overhead major cities, bombing the Turkish Parliament and the Presidential Palace.

When an attempted coup was launched against Erdogan in the summer of 2016, Turkish fighter jets flew close overhead major cities, bombing the Turkish Parliament and the Presidential Palace.

Air defense capabilities to defend against such an attack were lacking at the time. In light of this, the S-400 system may help the Turkish President rest a little easier.

But the US administration’s approach to Turkey may signify an unwieldy double standard as Ramani explains: “ Internationally, the message will still be that economically vulnerable countries, like Turkey, will be punished for dealing with Russia, while rising powers, like India, are not, and this double standard is something Washington will find very hard to shake off, if Trump goes down the sanctions route.”

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