U.S. voices 'serious concerns' about Turkey's plans to buy S-400s

This story has been updated by new remarks coming from U.S. officials.

The United States has made clear to Turkey "by the highest levels in many many occasions" that it has very serious concerns about Ankara's stated plans of acquiring of S400 Russian missile defence system, said a senior U.S. State Department official on the background call to discuss the upcoming NATO Ministerial in Washington, DC. 

Turkey's plans to purchase of S-400 air defence system and country's value to the NATO alliance dominated that discussion during the background call on Tuesday morning.

The senior U.S. official repeated on three different occasions that the U.S. is seriously concerned about Turkey's plans to purchase S-400 following questions.

When asked for the third time about the S-400 purchase, the senior official said that not only the F-35 programme but other future arms transfers to Turkey would also be under risk and the purchase would trigger the U.S. sanctions on Turkey. 

Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during his election campaign for the March 31 local elections, which resulted in losses for his party in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, Turkey's three biggest cities, repeatedly said there would be no turning back from purchasing the S-400 and the matter was a done deal.

Erdoğan added that Turkey would also seriously consider buying S-500 air defence system from Russia.

Meanwhile, Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency's Pentagon reporter tweeted that U.S. Senator James Inhofe announced a halt to the training of Turkish pilots currently in Arizona for F-35 jet tranining. These pilots have been receiving training for about a year. 

Senator Inhofe's office has denied this claim. Leacy Burke, press officer from Senator's office said in an email to Ahval that was not the Senator was saying. Senator was referring to a Bloomberg article in which the article reports that Pentagon is delaying delivery of two F-35 fighter jets intended to help train Turkish pilots at an Arizona base because of Turkey’s plan to buy a Russian missile defense system.

“The training is continuing,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews told Air Force Times. 

The first group of Turkish pilots completed their instructor training in March 2018, said Maj. Rebecca Heyse, a 56th Fighter Wing spokeswoman. 

“They are full-up instructor pilots,” she said. “It was a two-part course. They first completed the transition course into the F-35, and then they went through an instructor pilot upgrade course. That is completed and they will be staying as full-time instructor pilots in the 63rd Fighter Squadron for a couple of years.”

Heyse couldn’t disclose the exact number of Turkish pilots in the training pipeline. But there are two Turkish F-35 jets at the 63rd Fighter Squadron.

When asked for the fourth time about Turkey and its "value" to the NATO alliance on Tuesday, the U.S. senior official said Turkey remains an important NATO ally and U.S. ally, and added, "our relationship is not defined by a single issue of S-400. But S-400 is deeply problematic issue to the U.S." The official added that the U.S. is going to continue to partner in other areas with Turkey.

The U.S. general nominated to lead American forces in Europe said Tuesday that if Turkey buys the Russian S-400 air defense system, it “should not get” the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from the U.S., defense news reported.

At his Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing to lead of U.S. European Command, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters called the co-location of the F-35 and the S-400, “absolutely unsustainable.”

“I concur with this committee's belief that the S-400 and the F-35 are not compatible, and if Turkey proceeds down a path to procure and operate the S-400, they should not get the F-35,” Wolters said, adding that the Russian system, “speaks a different language than NATO English.”

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday that he expected to solve a dispute with Turkey over its purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system, a day after the United States halted the delivery of equipment related to the F-35 aircraft to Ankara, Reuters reported.

“I expect we’ll solve the problem so that they have the right defense equipment in terms of Patriots and F-35s,” Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon. 

Pentagon spokesperson Charles Summers on Monday confirmed the news that the U.S. has halted the transfer of F-35 parts to Turkey and Turkey's role in the production chain of F-35 currently being replaced by other countries,

"The United States has been clear that Turkey's acquisition of the S-400 is unacceptable. Therefore, the DoD has initiated steps necessary to ensure prudent program planning and resiliency of the F-35 supply chain. Secondary sources of supply for Turkish-produced parts are now in development."

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.