U.S. senators call for Turkey sanctions on reports S-400 system used to detect F-16s

Two U.S. senators, Republican James Lankford and Democrat Chris Van Hollen, called on the Trump administration on Wednesday to impose sanctions on Turkey after reports emerged that it tested a Russian missile defence system on U.S.-made jets belonging to NATO ally Greece.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the senators expressed concern over reports that Turkey activated its S-400 system as previous generation F-16 fighter jets were returning from joint military exercises between Greece, France, Italy and Cyprus in late August, held in response to Turkish aggression in the eastern Mediterranean.

U.S. lawmakers have been calling on the White House to levy sanctions on Turkey since it agreed to buy the S-400s from Moscow in 2017. It took delivery of the weapons last year. The senators also filed the request after reports this week that Turkey planned to test the system’s radars next week.

“Given this information, we again urge you to impose sanctions on Turkey as required by law,” the senators wrote in their letter.

Lankford and Van Hollen asked Pompeo to confirm whether Turkey indeed activated the S-400s' radars to detect the Greek jets, and whether Ankara had integrated the system into NATO’s tactical data link, asking if that would “enable Russia to gather information on NATO allies.”

The United States has already thrown Turkey out of a programme to purchase fifth generation F-35 stealth fighter jets in response to the S-400 purchase. Despite bipartizan support, the Trump administration has failed to impose further sanctions required under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for doing business with Russia’s defence industry.

The Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported on Monday that Turkey activated the S-400’s radars to track the jets. Bloomberg said on Tuesday that Turkey was planning to test the system in the coming week, citing an unidentified official with knowledge of the matter. Video footage on social media showed trucks transporting the weapons.

“Reports of this activation make clear that Turkey has no intention of reversing course and divesting of this system,” Van Hollen and Lankford said. “Additionally, the slow pace at which the Department of Defense is moving to remove Turkey from the F-35 supply chain has no doubt emboldened (Turkish) President (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan.”

Turkish firms continue to produce parts for the F-35s.