The sale of the F-35 to Turkey is particularly controversial, because Ankara also plans to purchase the sophisticated Russian-built S-400 missile system
On Aug. 13, 2018 U.S. President Donald Trump has signed into law a defense policy bill that will hold up the transfer to Turkey of 100 F-35 fighter jets, deepening a rift between the two countries over the ongoing imprisonment of an American pastor in Turkey.
As reported by Foreign Policy, the move amounts to a sharp blow to Ankara, which is already reeling from Trump’s decision last week to double down on tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel. Turkey planned to take possession of the jets over the next decade, which would make it the third-largest operator of F-35s in the world.
But its cancellation will also complicate matters for the U. S. Several key components of the jet are manufactured by Turkish companies, and the U.S. Defense Department estimates it will take two years to find and qualify new suppliers to replace any Turkish firms that are kicked out of the program. Meanwhile, the main European hub for the F-35’s engine repair and overhaul is in Eskisehir, in northwestern Turkey.
Turkey jailed the American pastor, Andrew Brunson, almost two years ago in a widespread crackdown that followed a military coup attempt. Ankara maintains that Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, had ties to the plotters.
However senior U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, have warned against removing Turkey from the F-35 program.
Ankara is a critical geopolitical partner and cornerstone of the NATO alliance, and the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey is a key launching pad for operations in the Middle East, particularly the campaign against the Islamic State. It is also home to a U.S. stockpile of B61 nuclear bombs, a linchpin of nuclear deterrence in Europe. Ankara is also a crucial partner in rebuilding Syria as the West, Russia, and Iran jockey for power in the war-torn nation.
The sale of the F-35 to Turkey is particularly controversial, because Ankara also plans to purchase the sophisticated Russian-built S-400 missile system. Officials say integration of the S-400 with the F-35 and NATO air defenses could compromise closely guarded U.S. and allied military secrets.
Since Washington decided to suspend the delivery of the F-35, Ankara may switch to buying the Russian Su-57 (or Su-35).
“If they take such a step at a moment when we are trying to mend our bilateral ties, they will definitely get a response from Turkey. There is no longer the old Turkey,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told private broadcaster CNN Türk in an interview on May 6.
If Turkey had to buy the Su-57 it would be the first country (outside Russia) to buy the first Russian stealth fighter after India dropped out of Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), known in India as the Perspective Multirole Fighter (PMF), which actually was a derivative project of the Sukhoi Su-57.
Photo credit: Clinton White / Highbrass
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