The Pentagon has suspended training of new F-35 Turkish pilots, and told Ankara the current students must leave the country by July 31, as new details about the rift with Ankara over its plans to purchase Russia's S-400 missile system come to the fore.
Acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan in a letter to Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s defense minister dated June 6, wrote that the 42 Turkish students attending F-35 training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida will be required to depart by that date. At this point, all international travel orders will be cancelled, and Turkish Air Force personnel will be prohibited from entering the bases, reports Foreign Policy.
Without the training provided by the US military, future Turkish F-35 pilots will not be able to operate the jet, which will provide the bulk of tactical airpower for America and many of its allied militaries for decades to come.
“If Turkey receives the S-400 before July 31, this ‘deliberate and measured’ approach will be ‘greatly accelerated,’” said Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, at the Pentagon on Friday.
“Turkey can still change its mind on purchasing the S-400 missile system, which is expected to arrive on Turkish soil as soon as this month, and the steps regarding F-35 training will be reversed,” a senior US defense official said.
The decision was reportedly taken after Turkey, a NATO member state, sent personnel to Russia to train on the S-400 systems. During the first week of May, Russia’s Rostec Corp said that it is ‘ready’ to offer its latest stealth-capable Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter if the US ends its cooperation with Ankara on the F-35 project.
In May, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Ankara would also engage in a joint production of the next generation S-500 with Moscow after the S-400s are delivered to them.
Russia in April had said Turkey can manufacture some of the components of the S-400 missile systems.
The US threatened to impose Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) against Turkey if it goes ahead with the Russian S-400 air defense systems deal last week. That is the first instance of the US intending to invoke CAATSA against a country for buying Russian equipment since the act came into force in 2018. Washington has already halted delivery of F-35 materials and related equipment to Ankara.
India and Russia signed a $5 billion contract for S-400 systems in October 2018. The deliveries are expected to commence from October 2020 and conclude by April 2023. Last week, a US state department official said that India's purchase of the Russian systems will have "serious implications" on the Indo-US defense ties.