Ilhan Tanir
Jun 07 2019

Washington sets July deadline for suspension of Turkey from F-35 programme - report

Updated with Arif Asalyoğlu's comments starting at 21st paragraph, Rostec head's comments in text and in final paragraphs, further details on the letter. 


Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has told Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar that Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program will be ended as of July 31 unless Turkey withdraws from its planned purchase of Russian S-400 defence systems, Foreign Policy reported on Friday.

Reuters reported early on Friday that the United States will not accept more Turkish pilots for training on F-35 fighter jets because of the escalating tensions over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian systems, which according to Washington could collect data on NATO military operations and undermine their defences. 

The decision could be reversed if Turkey alters its plans to buy the S-400s from Moscow, Reuters said, citing two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity this week.

Four pilots from Turkey are receiving training at Luke Airforce base and a further two are working as instructors there, Reuters said. There are also 20 Turkish maintenance staff undergoing training at the facility, it said, citing the U.S. military.

Shanahan told Ankara 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 July 31, Foreign Policy said.

Moreover, all international travel orders will be cancelled, and Turkish Air Force personnel will be prohibited from entering the bases, it said. 

"Pursuing this path will cause a loss in jobs, gross domestic product, and international trade", the letter said. "President Trump committed to boost bilateral trade from $20 billion currently to more than $75 billion, however that may be challenging if the United States imposes CAATSA sanctions."

Ahval obtained a copy of the letter, which included a detailed list of actions attached stipulating the steps the United States is planning to take if Turkey moves forward with purchasing the S-400. The letter and list are attached below.

The steps laid out in the document had been discussed in a prior phone call between the two defence ministers, a Pentagon official told Foreign Policy.  

In April, the United States froze a joint F-35 manufacturing program with Turkey, which produces 6-7 percent of the parts for the fighter jets, over Ankara’s decision to purchase the Russian systems. Turkey is interested in buying 100 of the fighter jets, which according to Reuters are worth around $9 billion at current prices.

CNBC reported last month that Washington had told Ankara to decide by early June to either cancel its acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile systems and buy U.S.-made Patriots or risk expulsion from an advanced U.S. fighter jet program, U.S. sanctions and possible blowback from NATO.

Turkish officials have repeatedly said that Ankara would not renege on plans to acquire Russian systems according to a $2.5 billion contract signed with Moscow in 2017. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday that it was out of the question for Turkey to take a step back from the deal.

Citing anonymous U.S. and Turkish officials, Bloomberg reported last week the Turkish and U.S. presidents had agreed to set up a working group on the S-400 purchase during a phone conversation on May 29.

The U.S. Department of Defense Spokesman for NATO, Russia and Europe, Eric Pahon, told Ahval on Tuesday that a joint U.S.-Turkish working group would not mitigate U.S. concerns over S-400 missile systems. 

Turkey also risks being penalised under The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) if it goes ahead with plans to purchase Russian systems.

Pro-government daily’s columnist Mehmet Acet said on Tuesday that Russia could begin delivery of the S-400s on June 21. Yet last week, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said the S-400s would not be arriving until after June.

According to Acet, the delivery was delayed due to expectations over a meeting with Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka on June 28-29.

Appearing to confirm reports of the delay, Sergei Chemezov, the head of Russia's state defence manufacturer Rostec, said on Friday that delivery of the S-400s would begin by August.

"Everything's in place, I believe we will start deliveries in two months. We've taken preliminary payment, and credit has been taken out. The credit has been spent, and the equipment produced. Besides that, we've completed the training (for Turkish operators)," Sputnik Türkiye quoted Chemezov as saying.

Around 100 Turkish servicemen travelled to Russia to receive training in the S-400s at the end of May, local press reported last month.

The Trump administration last year tested how easily it could impact Turkish economy, when it sanctioned two Turkish ministers and doubled tariffs on Turkish metals due to a diplomatic spat between two countries over the almost two year detention of an American Pastor. said Arif Asalyoğlu, the director general of the International Institute for Development of Scientific Cooperation, on Friday.

The Turkish lira hit records low in August after Trump shared a Tweet on U.S. measures, which was a major blow to Turkey’s already ailing economy.

“A few days ago, Washington included in the sanctions list a large number of Russian companies, including facilities that produce S-400. The sanctions also apply to third countries that will cooperate with these enterprises,” Asalyoğlu said, adding that now the S-400 deal between Ankara and Moscow was put under  the scope of the law on sanctions.

“In other words, Turkey has become the country targeted by Washington's recent restrictive measures. Thus, the United States has ranked Turkey in the league of countries such as North Korea and Iran, representing a danger to America, showing the seriousness of their intentions in the issue of S-400,” the analyst said. 

Meanwhile, Rostec chief Chemezov has signalled that new generation Russian Su-57 jets could be sent to Turkey as an alternative to the F-35 jets.

"It is very important for us to develop our cooperation with Turkey in the air defence systems field," Russian state-run news site Sputnik quoted Chemezov as saying.

"If Turkey wishes to buy the Su-57s, we are open to cooperation on this front, too," Chemezov said.

The Rostec chief said in May that he would welcome Turkish input in the production of S-500 missile defence systems, the newest generation that will replace the S-400 models.

Rostec president also said Russia expects to deploy S-400 systems in Turkey in two months time and all goes with the Turkish ally.

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