Pentagon preparing to drop Turkey from F-35 programme

The Pentagon will halt manufacturing support for the F-35 fighter jets in Turkey if Ankara buys Russian S-400 missile defence system, U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Friday, MSN news reported.

The S-400 deal signed by Turkey and Russia in December 2017 has been an enduring source of tension between Ankara and Washington. The U.S. and NATO officials are concerned that the presence of Russian missile systems in Turkey could grant Moscow access to defence data gathered from the F-35s and other systems.

The U.S. senators last month called for sanctions on Turkey if it goes ahead with the purchase, and warned that Turkey might be removed from the supply chain of the F-35 fighter jet. The F-35 brought together nine countries into a US-led production programme in which 6-7 percent of the parts were to be produced by Turkey.

The U.S. government remains steadfast in its opposition to Turkey's adoption of the S-400 anti-aircraft technology, MSN quoted Shanahan as saying on Friday. 

"If Turkey decides that the S-400 is a decision they want to go forward with, then we have to move work out of Turkey," he said.

The U.S. official also said that he had met with delegations from Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on the jet, and United Technologies, manufacturer of the jet’s engine, to discuss options if Turkey refused to forego the S-400.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday in an interview with broadcaster NTV that excluding Turkey from the F-35 project would put “very serious” burdens on the other partners in the project, Reuters reported

“There is no clause saying ‘you will be excluded if you buy S-400s’ in this partnership. Excluding us just because any one country wants so would not be in line with justice, laws or rights. This should not happen,” Akar said.

According to some analysts, Ankara’s insistence on buying Russian-made S-400 defence missiles and the country’s pivot towards Russia can lead to a break-up between Turkey and the United States.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Friday that the issue of S-400 purchase was only a part of the ties between Ankara and Washington. 

"Turkey and the U.S. relations does not only consist of the S-400 and F-35s,” Anadolu Agency quoted Çavuşoğlu as saying at a joint news conference with his Hungarian counterpart, Peter Szijjarto, in Budapest 

“These are of course important. There are regional and bilateral issues between Turkey and the United States such as the withdrawal of American troops from Syria,” the minister said.