The Pentagon says it will reassess the promised delivery of F-35s to Turkey, but the report doesn't address Ankara's major concerns.
In a report to the US Congress, the Pentagon says it will reassess Turkey’s participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program, citing Ankara's recent agreement with Moscow to procure S-400 missile system.
Turkey has invested more than $1.25 billion in the F-35 program since 2002 and it should have received 100 F-35 fighter planes this year. But the Trump administration postponed the crucial delivery for the second time in August.
The JSF program is the world’s most expensive arms project to date and Turkey is a key producer of the F-35 manufacturing parts for all variants and customers.
“The Administration will reassess Turkey’s continued participation as one of eight partner nations should they continue with their purchase of the S-400,” said the Pentagon report. TRT World has a copy of the report.
The report's 'executive summary' says that US may impose sanctions on Turkey if the S-400 deal moves ahead.
At the same time, the report has also praised Turkey for being NATO's “productive military partner in many areas.”
“The US Government has made clear to the Turkish Government that purchasing the S-400 would have unavoidable negative consequences for US-Turkey bilateral relations, as well as Turkey’s role in NATO,” the summary said.
Despite offering a repeated criticism of Turkish purchase of the S-400s, the report has still maintained that Ankara has legitimate concerns, seeking a missile system in the face of “growing regional security threats” coming from its politically unstable southern neighbours.
The report has also acknowledged Turkey’s frustration “with its protracted, decade-long search for an air and missile defense system.” It eventually led the country to buy “the S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Russia in July 2017,” the report conceded.
Notwithstanding the critical language of the Pentagon report, sources in Turkish defense ministry told TRT World that the US will ultimately deliver the promised F-35s because “F-35s, which will replace F-16s, have an utmost importance for Turkey’s Air Force.”
There are “no significant risks” for fighter jets’ being part of Turkish military inventory, one of the sources said.
“Higher-ups have figured out the issues surrounding the deal,” an official in the ministry said.
According to US Congress sources, Pentagon Chief James Mattis has also objected any possible postponement or canceling of delivery of F-35s to Ankara, indicating that Turkey plays a crucial role for the overall production of the fighter jets.
Turkey’s seek for missile system
Located between Europe and the Middle East, Turkey has long searched for a powerful anti-aircraft system to defend its geopolitically sensitive borders against various threats stemming from its western and eastern flanks.
On the western front, Turkey has disagreements with Greece over the delimitation of the Aegean continental shelf and other border issues have often caused tensions between the two countries.
On the southeastern flank, where there is an ongoing civil war in Syria and a continuing instability in Iraq following the US invasion, Turkey has been dealing with several security threats, mostly coming from the PKK, which is considered to be a terror group by the US, EU and Turkey. The PKK and its affiliates are also present in northern parts of Syria and Iraq.
For Turkey, it was significant to purchase Russian S-400s since the US did not provide the Patriot missile system to Turkey on agreeable terms, despite Ankara's repeated requests.
The Pentagon report also touched upon the issue of providing Ankara “a strong, capable, NATO-interoperable air and missile defense system that meets all of Turkey’s defense requirements.”
The initial delivery of S-400 missile defense system is expected in July 2019.
“The current deal is a done deal. I cannot cancel it,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, referring to the S-400 purchase. However, he still indicated that Turkey was still keen on making more defense purchases from its NATO allies.
Beyond Turkey’s disagreement with US on S-400s, Ankara has other political issues with Washington, primarily in northern Syria.
Despite Turkey’s strong opposition, the US continues to support the YPG, which is a Syrian wing of the PKK. Turkey has produced compelling evidence to prove the two organisations worked together but Washington has been denying any possible linkage.