The United States (US) has warned Turkey it will be suspended from participation in the F-35 program as of next month unless it withdraws from the planned S-400 defense systems deal with Russia.
According to media reports acting US Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan has written an official letter to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar threatening measures the country will take against Ankara if it goes ahead with the deal.
The two ministers have reportedly discussed the issue on May 28 in a phone call.
The US letter vowed that Turkey would be suspended from participation in the F-35 program as of July 31, unless it withdraws from the planned S-400 deal with Russia.
Consequently, all Turkish personnel including 42 students currently attending F-35 training and two instructor pilots at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona and Eglin AFB in Florida – in the US related to the F-35 program would be required to depart by July 31.
Their Invitational Travel Orders (ITOs) and Common Access Cards (CACs) will be canceled so that they would not be able to enter related facilities in the bases.
Further, the new F-35 training, which had been scheduled to begin later this year for an additional 34 Turkish students, would not take place.
Turkey also risks being penalized under The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) if it goes ahead with plans to purchase Russian systems.
Shanahan also stated in the letter that they would not plan for Turkish participation in the annual F-35 Chief Executive Officer Roundtable on June 12.
The US administration would not update the related Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Turkey, as the F-35 partnership required a planned update to it.
The ongoing suspension of F-35 material deliveries and activities, including AT-5 and AT-6 aircraft, would be maintained and no new workshare would be directed to Turkey, with its current workshare being transitioned to alternate sources.
In April the US administration had frozen a joint F-35 manufacturing program with Turkey, which was producing 6-7 percent of the F-35 parts. Turkey plans to purchase 100 F-35 fighter jets, which would cost approximately $9 billion at current prices, according to Reuters.
Shanahan’s letter also expressed the US Congress’ willingness for sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) to be imposed on Turkey. The act also targets Russia, Iran and North Korea.
“Pursuing this path [the purchase of S-400s] will cause a loss in jobs, gross domestic product and international trade. President Trump committed to boosting bilateral trade from $20 billion currently to more than $75 billion, however that may be challenging if the US imposes CAATSA sanctions,” the letter read.
Russia says ‘everything is in place’
On Russia’s side, ‘everything is in place’ with regards to the S-400 deal with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
“I believe we will start deliveries in two months. We have taken preliminary payment, and credit has been taken out. The credit has been spent and the equipment produced. Besides that, we have completed the training,” Sergei Chemezov, head of Russia’s state defense manufacturer Rostec, told Sputnik Turkish.
About 100 Turkish operators were reported to attend the S-400 training at the end of May.
Chemezov has also stated that the Russian government could provide Turkey with new generation Russian Su-57 jets, replacing the US F-35 jets.
“It is very important for us to develop our cooperation with Turkey in the air defense systems field. If Turkey wishes to buy the Su-57s, we are open to cooperation on this front, as well,” Russian state-run Sputnik quoted Chemezov as saying.
In May, the Rostec’s chief had declared that they would welcome Turkey’s input in the production of S-500 missile defense systems, which is the latest generation to replace the S-400s.
Turkey insists on acquiring the Russian S-400
Turkey’s western allies, notably NATO and the US deem the deployment of the Russian S-400 system in a NATO country as a big threat to the security of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet program, to which Ankara is a party.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP government, however, says that it is out of the question for Turkey to take a step back from the S-400 deal with Russia.
The presidents of the two NATO allies had agreed to create a working group on the S-400 purchase during a phone conversation on May 29, Bloomberg reported last week, citing the anonymous US and Turkish officials.
Eric Pahon, Spokesman of US Department of Defense for NATO, Russia, and Europe, told Ahval news portal on Tuesday that such a working group would not mitigate US concerns over S-400 missile systems.