Ejecting Turkey from F-35 programme ‘right decision for wrong reason’ - analysis

U.S plans to remove Turkey from the F-35 programme is the right thing to do, but Ankara’s decision to buy Russian S-400 missile systems is probably the wrong reason to do so, said Harold Hutchison, a U.S. journalist covering military issues, in the Washington Examiner on Saturday.

Washington since last month has increased pressure on Turkey to cancel plans to acquire Russian missile systems, which according to Washington could collect data on NATO military operations.

Acting U.S. Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan has sent a letter to Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar last week which said Turkey’s participation in the F-35 programme would end as of July 31 unless Turkey withdraws from its planned purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system (also known as the SA-21 Growler).

Hutchison said in the past there had been other purchases of Russian systems by American allies that had not been seen as deal breakers. “South Korea acquired T-80 main battle tanks and BMP infantry fighting vehicles. Greece bought S-300 surface-to-air missiles (also known as the SA-10 Grumble) in the 1990s,” Hutchison said.

“So, the SA-21 isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, and in fact, Turkey getting it was a potential intelligence coup,” the journalist said, adding jokingly that the United States probably should invite the first battery Turkey acquires to Nellis Air Force Base to take part in Red Flag exercises.

“So, while kicking Turkey out of the F-35 program is the right thing to do, the SA-21 is probably the wrong reason to do so,” Hutchison said.

According to the journalist, the real reason for kicking Turkey from the F-35 programme should be Turkey’s human rights records and the country turning from being a reliable ally into a borderline enemy under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule.

“Should Erdoğan’s regime leave power, perhaps America can look at resuming Turkey’s participation in the program. But until then, sending F-35s to a regime that could turn hostile would be a big mistake,” Hutchison said.