A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany. File photo/ Reuters
WASHINGTON: The United States could soon freeze preparations for delivering F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, officials told Reuters, in what would be the strongest signal yet by Washington that Ankara cannot have both the advanced aircraft and Russia’s S-400 air defense system.
The United States is nearing an inflection point in a years-long standoff with Turkey, a NATO ally, after so far failing to sway President Tayyip Erdogan that buying a Russian air defense system would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft.
“The S-400 is a computer. The F-35 is a computer. You don’t hook your computer to your adversary’s computer and that’s basically what we would be doing,” Katie Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told Reuters.
While no decision has been made yet, US officials confirmed that Washington was considering halting steps now underway to ready Turkey to receive the F-35, which is built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
“There (are) decisions that come up constantly about things being delivered in anticipation of them eventually taking custody of the planes,” said Wheelbarger.
“So there’s a lot of things in train that can be paused to send signals to them (that we’re serious),” she added, without detailing those steps.
However, another US official said one of the measures the United States was looking at was alternatives to an engine depot in Turkey, without giving more details. The official said any potential alternatives would likely be somewhere in Western Europe. Turkey is home to an F-35 engine overhaul depot in the western city of Eskisehir.
If Turkey was removed from the F-35 program, it would be the most serious crisis in the relationship between the two allies in decades, according to Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The strains on ties between Washington and Ankara already extend beyond the F-35 to include strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of US consular staff.
“This (the F-35 standoff) is really a symptom, not a cause of the problem between the two countries,” Aliriza said.
Many US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, worry that Turkey is drifting away from NATO and watch improving relations between Ankara and Moscow with concern. The prospect of Russian contractors or officials on Turkish bases that also are home to the F-35 is unfathomable to many US officials.
The tensions could further escalate. If Ankara goes ahead with the Russian deal, Turkey also could face US sanctions.
Despite US hopes that Turkey may still forgo the S-400, experts say Erdogan may have already backed himself into a rhetorical corner. He has repeatedly said he would not reverse course on the S-400, saying earlier in March: “Nobody should ask us to lick up what we spat.”
A decision to drop Turkey from the F-35 program would have broader repercussions, since Ankara helps manufacture parts for the aircraft, including components of the landing gear, cockpit displays and aircraft engines.
Wheelbarger acknowledged that the Pentagon, in light of the standoff, was looking “across the board” at potential alternate suppliers for F-35 parts, including in other NATO countries.
“It’s prudent program planning...to ensure that you have stability in your supply chain,” she said, without speculating that Turkey might be dropped from the program.
Washington has sought to persuade Turkey to purchase the American-made Raytheon Co Patriot defense system, instead of S-400s. Erdogan has said that Turkey was still open to buying Patriot systems from the United States but only if the conditions are suitable.
Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said that in addition to the Patriot air defense system, the American offer “includes significant government-to-government cooperation on advanced system development.”
Although Turkey has held out the prospect of buying both the S-400 and the Patriot system, the United States has warned Turkey it will take its offer of Patriots off the table unless it changes course.
A Turkish S-400 purchase could also trigger a fight with the US Congress, which has already blocked all major arms sales to Ankara while the S-400 deal is pending.
Lawmakers could renew attempts to introduce legislation that would legally prohibit the Trump administration from allowing Turkey to have the F-35 if it secures the S-400s.
Even though Mueller’s findings on obstruction of justice were inconclusive, US Attorney General William Barr said in a summary released on Sunday that Mueller’s team had not found enough proof to warrant bringing charges against Trump.
Moscow would be happy to mend ties with Washington after a report by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election, a senior Russian lawmaker said on Monday.
A refusal by the United States to hand over to Turkey the F-35 fighters jets which it has bought would be “robbery,” media reports on Thursday cited President Tayyip Erdogan as saying in a dispute over
Turkish and Russian officials are reviewing deployment of their forces in the Syrian border region of Tel Rifaat, Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Sunday, a day after cross-border fire from the area killed one Turkish soldier.
Protesters threw petrol bombs at the Tsim Sha Tsui police station on Kowloon peninsula after police inside fired volleys of tear gas to disperse demonstrators on the street.
Pakistan's army later said that "unprovoked cease-fire violations" by Indian troops killed five civilians and one soldier and wounded another three civilians and two troops across the highly militarized Line of Control that divides Kashmir between Pakistan and India.
Travellers to the UAE shall be receiving a three-shaded bookmark, marking the start of the year-long celebrations for the much-awaited Expo2020 Dubai scheduled for Oct.20, 2020 to April 10, 2021.