U.S. Warns Turkey to Abandon Russian Missile Purchase or Be Kicked Out of F-35 Fighter Program
Do you support removing Turkey from the F-35 program if it buys the Russian missiles?
The U.S. government is mounting a last ditch, multi-pronged effort to convince Turkey, a NATO ally, to halt its planned acquisition of the S-400 air defense system from Russia.
The State Dept. warned of “real and negative consequences” for Turkey on Tuesday, while the Dept. of Defense on Wednesday insisted that Turkey will be removed from the F-35 joint strike fighter program if it obtains the S-400. And by the end of this week, lawmakers in both chambers of Congress will have cast votes on blocking the transfer of F-35s to Turkey pending the completion of its purchase of the Russian air & missile defense system.
What is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter?
- The F-35 Lightning II is a stealth fighter that performs air superiority and ground attack missions for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps plus several key U.S. allies. Deliveries are scheduled through 2037 and by the time the F-35’s projected service life concludes in 2070 it’s expected to cost a cumulative $1.5 trillion, making it the most expensive weapons program in history.
- To improve interoperability and reduce costs, the U.S. and eight partners ― Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, and the United Kingdom ― developed the industrial base for the F-35. Six other nations (Israel, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Belgium, and Poland) have either purchased or have committed to purchase the F-35, while Finland & Spain are among other allies considering purchases.
Why is Turkey buying both the F-35 & S-400 problematic?
- Defense officials are concerned that Turkey could eventually compromise the F-35’s stealth capabilities and teach Russia’s S-400 air defense system to identify the aircraft. Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 would also run counter to NATO initiatives to replace Russian equipment (some from the Soviet era) with interoperable NATO equipment.
- Turkey has been encouraged by every member of NATO and every participant in the F-35 development program to abandon its acquisition of Russia’s S-400. The U.S. has offered to sell Turkey the Patriot air defense system on favorable terms (with its manufacturer Raytheon promising a speedy acquisition), but Turkey has declined in favor of the Russian S-400.
- While Turkey has already purchased several F-35s, their transfer out of the U.S. has been put on hold indefinitely and Turkish pilots who were undergoing F-35 training in the U.S. have been grounded.
- The F-35’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, and the Pentagon are working on modifying the supply chain to exclude Turkish manufacturers that have been tasked with making parts valued at roughly $12 billion through the program’s life span if the S-400 deal goes through. Those parts include the panoramic cockpit display, the missile remote interface, weapons bay doors, and engine components.
- If Turkey is removed from the program, the production of roughly 50-75 aircraft could be delayed over the course of two years and it has been suggested that the U.S. could buy back the several F-35s purchased by Turkey and retained at U.S. military bases.
What’s happening in Congress?
- The House is set to hold a passage vote tomorrow on Democrats’ bill (H.R. 2500) to authorize $725 billion in defense spending in FY2020, which includes a provision blocking the transfer of F-35s to Turkey if it goes through with the S-400 acquisition from Russia.
- While the House’s National Defense Authaorization Act (NDAA) as a whole is expected to pass along party-lines because of other partisan provisions, the Turkish F-35 provision has bipartisan support as evidenced by the House’s unanimous adoption of a similar resolution introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-TX) on June 10, 2019.
- The Senate passed its $750 billion NDAA (S. 1790) ― which also included a ban on delivering the F-35 to Turkey if it buys the S-400 from Russia ― on a bipartisan 86-8 vote on June 27, 2019. When Congress eventually moves to enact a compromise NDAA, through a conference committee or otherwise, it will more than likely include that language.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / dardanellas)
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