The US has suspended the participation of its NATO ally Turkey in the F-35 fighter jet program and has halted the delivery of the jets to the country since Ankara has decided to buy the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft defense systems.
Turkey’s Foreign Minster Mevlut Cavusoglu met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov last week, giving a go ahead to the S-400 purchase.
“The US has been clear that Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 is unacceptable. Should Turkey procure the S-400, their continued participation in the F-35 program is at risk,” said Acting Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Charles Summers Jr.
A decision to drop Turkey from the F-35 program would have broad repercussions, since Ankara helps manufacture parts for the aircraft, including components of the landing gear, cockpit displays and aircraft engines. The plane’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, said that contracts with Turkish companies to build F-35 parts had been expected to reach $12 billion, media reports said.
When US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was asked whether America wanted Turkey to be a part of F-35 program last week, he said, "We absolutely do; we need Turkey to buy the Patriot."
America had been trying to persuade Turkey to buy Raytheon’s Patriot defense system and drop the idea of purchasing the Russian systems. According to the US, it would be compromising the security of Lockheed Martin aircraft if Turkey has both, the American jet and Russian missile defense system.
Turkey has proposed to the US that they form a working group to determine that Russian S-400 missile defense systems do not pose a threat to US or NATO military equipment, Reuters quoted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying Wednesday.
"It will not be integrated into the NATO system...therefore we propose the United States to establish a technical working group to make sure that this system will not be a threat - neither to (US) F-35s nor the NATO systems," Cavusoglu told a panel in the US.
Apart from dropping Turkey from the program and stopping the supply of the jets, the US had threatened to impose sanctions. It was also checking if there was an alternative to the F-35 engine overhaul depot somewhere in Europe, that is currently based in Eskisehir, Turkey.
But Turkey has remained unfazed in the face of threats from Washington. It will become the first NATO member to acquire the system.
"Turkey will not go back on the purchase of the S-400 systems from Russia, regardless of what the US says," Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey said late March.