A “plan B” will be put in place should the US terminates Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program due to a deal for the purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system.
This was said by Hulusi Akar, the Defence Minister while addressing members of the press during the celebrations of the 99th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Parliament on the National Sovereignty and Children’s Day, April 23.
Akar said Turkey had “short-term, medium-term and long-term plans”, in case of US’ freezing the delivery of F-35 fighter jets.
“There is no deadlock yet in the process. There are currently four Turkish pilots, carrying out flights; two more are preparing to join the training program; and 35 to 40 personnel, receiving training [on the F-35 fighter jets],” said the minister.
The US and NATO officials have been voicing concerns that Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400s can harm NATO’s interoperability and compromise the security of the F-35s.
They fear the Russian S-400 missile system radars will learn how to spot and track the F-35s, making it less able to evade Russian weapons in the future.
Sticking to their commitment to buy the Russian air defense system, the Turkish officials claim the S-400s poses no risk to either the F-35 program or the NATO systems.
In an effort to reassure US and NATO over security concerns, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared on Tuesday the S-400 systems would constitute no threat to NATO systems, as they would “not see them as the enemy.”
Previously, Turkey proposed creating a technical committee to assess security threats caused by the S-400s in a bid to diminish the US-NATO concerns.
Washington, however, is yet to reply to Turkey’s committee proposal.
The US administration threatens to kick its NATO ally out of the F-35 program over Turkey’s deal with Russia to obtain a surface-to-air missile defense system, with some US senators speaking of imposing sanctions on Turkey under the
Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which targets Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
Ankara argues the CAATSA was in effect after the S-400 deal and Turkey, therefore, should not face US sanctions. Dismissing the US ultimatum, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month US opposition to the S-400 deal has “nothing to do with either NATO and the F-35 nor the security of the US,” but stems from Turkey’s pursuit of an independent policy in the region, particularly in Syria.
Cavusoglu indicated earlier this month Turkey might obtain even more military equipment from Russia, including an alternative to the F-35s if the US removes Turkey from the program. “There are F-35, but there are also aircraft manufactured in Russia. If we are not able to purchase F-35, Turkey will buy similar aircraft from other countries,” Cavusoglu said.
Some officials from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) further stated the S-400 deal with Russia came after the US refusal to sell the US-made Patriot missile system to Turkey, adding Russia’s offer was even better since it included technology transfers.
The US had offered Turkey the more expensive Patriot anti-missile system at a discount that expired at the end of March, on conditions of dropping its plans to purchase the S-400s.
Turkey plans to buy 100 aircraft over the years. Turkey has received four F-35 jets from the US so far, hoping to take delivery of two more in November. Further, more Turkish pilots are due to begin training at US air force bases, besides the ones already there.