Pentagon suspends delivery of F-35 to Turkey

The US Defense Department announced on Monday that it is suspending delivery of its latest fighter jet fighter, the F-35, to Turkey.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) – The US Defense Department announced on Monday that it is suspending delivery of its latest fighter jet fighter, the F-35, to Turkey because Ankara has insisted on proceeding with the purchase of the advanced Russian air defense system, the S-400.

On Monday, the Pentagon issued a statement affirming, “Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 is unacceptable.” Until Ankara halts the purchase of the S-400, “the United States has suspended deliveries and activities associated with the stand-up of Turkey’s F-35 operational capability,” it continued.

Turkish pilots are in the US, training on the fighter planes, but none of the 100 jets that Ankara was slated to purchase has yet been transferred to that country, and all the planes remain in the US.

US officials have long expressed concern about the incompatibility of the S-400 and the F-35. Turkey’s possession of both would allow the S-400 to acquire information about the fighter jet that would make it easier to shoot down the plane. Nonetheless, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has persisted in his decision to proceed with the purchase of the Russian missile system.

Indeed, on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov traveled to Antalya, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, for the “Seventh Turkish Russian Joint Strategic Planning Group, a sub-mechanism of the Turkish-Russian High-Level Cooperation Council,” as Turkey’s Foreign Ministry described the event.

“It’s a done deal,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a joint press conference with Lavrov, after their meeting, as Cavusoglu reiterated Turkey’s intent to go ahead with the S-400 purchase.

"We are committed to the agreement,” he affirmed.

The US decision to suspend Ankara’s participation in the F-35 program “should come as no surprise to the Turkish government,” Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and currently a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Kurdistan 24.

“Washington has repeatedly warned Ankara about the consequences of purchasing the S-400 air defense system,” he continued, noting that, so far, Erdogan had “chosen to ignore” those warnings.

“The timing of the announcement, the day after Turkey’s elections, shows Washington’s concern to make sure that Erdogan would not exploit the issue during the campaign,” Erdemir added.

The Pentagon fell short of actually terminating Turkish involvement in the F-35 program, only suspending it for now. But Monday’s statement represented its strongest, clearest, public language, so far, about the consequences of Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400.

Members of the US Congress have long expressed serious concern about this issue. On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would require the administration to certify that Ankara was not buying the S-400 before delivery of the F-35 to Turkey could begin.

Similarly, in the House of Representatives, a bipartisan group of 31 congressmen signed a letter, also on Thursday, arguing that delivery of the F-35 should be conditional on Turkey not acquiring the Russian missile system.

“Under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has acted in a manner inconsistent with its responsibilities as a NATO member and ally of the United States,” the representatives wrote, citing the S-400 purchase.

“Furthermore, Turkey continues to threaten US interests and allies in the region, including US forces in Syria, Kurdish YPG forces, Greece, Israel, and Cyprus,” their letter continued.

The purchase of the S-400 could also subject Turkey to sanctions, known as CAATSA: Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act. The law, passed in 2017, includes a mandate for sanctions against countries purchasing military equipment from Russia.

There was no immediate Turkish response to the Pentagon announcement. Erdogan is slated to visit Moscow next week.

Later this week, NATO Foreign Ministers—including Cavusoglu—will meet in Washington to mark the 70th anniversary of NATO’s founding. That historic event occurred in 1949, in the aftermath of World War II, as the US, Canada, and ten West European countries pivoted to confront the threat from the Soviet Union that arose after the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Three years later, in 1952, Turkey and Greece joined the NATO alliance.

Editing by Nadia Riva