Washington’s Turkish sanctions reveal Ankara’s indispensability when it comes to producing parts for the F-35 fighter jets.
The US on December 14 imposed sanctions which targeted Turkey's Presidency of Defense Industries’ (SSB) officials over its purchase of the Russian S400 missile defence systems along with a ban on all US export licences.
Previously, Turkey was banned from buying F-35s after the purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence systems, however, the Chair of Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries, Ismail Demir recently told reporters that Turkish companies will continue to produce parts for the F-35 fighter jets despite being removed from the programme in 2019.
In late 2019, US Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews, a Defence Department spokesman said that a decision was made "to honour existing contractual arrangements and accept delivery of parts that were already on contract."
According to Bloomberg’s analysis in 2018, Turkey is a global leader when it comes to aerospace manufacturing and 10 Turkish companies were on track to manufacture about $12 billion worth of F-35 parts, including the centre fuselage produced by Turkish Aerospace Industries.
Ismail Demir said: “What they did on the F-35 was even against their domestic law. Our legal work continues. Turkey has always met its responsibilities as a partner of the program. Turkish companies are currently continuing to produce parts (of F-365 jets).”
The foreign ministry of Turkey in a statement this summer reiterated that the US refusal to sell the Patriot missile system to Ankara compelled it to go for the S-400 deal with Russia, in light of its growing security threats in the region, particularly those on the Syrian border.
"The circumstances that led Turkey to purchase the S-400 missiles is known very well to everyone. In this respect, US President Trump has repeatedly confirmed Turkey's justifications on the issue,” the foreign ministry statement said, rejecting the sanctions.
Despite the fact that the main reason behind Turkey’s purchase of S-400s was the US’s refusal to provide its own defence systems to Ankara, Washington continues to insist that the S-400s that Turkey has purchased pose a threat to the next-generation F-35 fighter jets and to NATO’s broader defence systems.
Demir says that the number of direct procurements of Turkey’s Defense Industries Presidency is minimal, and the productions are carried out by some contractor firms, so Washington’s sanctions won't harm the ongoing projects
“The SSB doesn’t have much to purchase directly. As SSB, we define a project that our security forces need, mature it, tender it, hand it to the main contractor and then follow up. In this process, our main contractors also make direct purchases. These companies are also not covered by the sanctions. This decision does not mean sanctions on Turkey, they target the SSB, me and three of my friends from the team,” Demir stated.
Demir told reporters that claims that the sanctions could allegedly cost Turkey’s defence industry $1.5-2 billion, were unrealistic.
“This is not something that will happen within the currently announced framework of the CAATSA sanctions. If there will be a practice and intention beyond that, it is something else. There have already been practices of slowing down and blocking [of the projects] for a long time,” he said.
Elaborating on Turkey’s inventory of its fighter jets as Ankara is not able to procure F-35 aircraft at the moment and its F-16 jets are set to expire soon, Demir said the country can continue modernising its defence aircraft.
“In addition to our current UAVs, our new UAVs, which will carry much larger, heavier ammunition and are able to launch air-to-air missiles, are coming soon. We will also have an unmanned jet engine project called Hürjet which is a training jet and light attack aircraft and its advanced models to enter service earlier,” he stated.