The Trump administration is locked in an escalating standoff with Turkey over the country’s plans to purchase an air defence system from Russia.
In a letter to Turkey’s defence Minister, Hulusi Akar, acting defence Secretary, Patrick Shanahan intentionally threatened to block Turkey from receiving F-35 jets if the NATO member goes through with procuring the S-400 system.
U.S. officials say Turkey’s purchasing of the S-400 system could pose a threat to the F-35s, as the two systems are not ‘compatible’ with each other. On June 7, Under Secretary of Defence for Acquisition and Sustainment, Ellen M. Lord “The U.S does not want to have the F-35 in close proximity to the S-400 over a period of time because the ability to understand the profile of the F-35 on that particular piece of equipment.”
Turkey has been a joint participant in the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter program (JSF) since its Defence Industrial Committee approved a block buy in 2016 for 24 aircrafts over a three-year contract. The country already bought four F-35 fighter jets, which are being held at the Luke Air Force Base in the United States.
Now, Shanahan has stated he is giving Turkey until July 31 to cancel its plan to receive S-400 defence system or be suspended from the F-35 program. Yet, he made clear the U.S. might not stop with suspending Turkey from the program.
He hinted possible sanctions against Turkey could follow; “All actions taken on the F-35 are based on risks the S-400 presence in Turkey would have and they are separate from Russia-related Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions. There is strong bipartisan U.S. Congressional determination to see CAATSA sanctions imposed on Turkey if Turkey acquires the S-400,” he wrote.
CAATSA sanctions could cover export sanctions as well as a shut-out from U.S financial institutions, among other things.
Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt çavusoglu responded harshly to Mr Shanahan’s letter at the conference in Ankara on Thursday.
“We do not accept the tone of this letter and no one can give Turkey an ultimatum,” he said. “Turkey has purchased the S-400s and the S-400s will come to Turkey.
The House of Representatives agreed on a resolution earlier last week, condemning Turkey’s move to purchase S-400 air defence systems from Russia. The deal ‘would endanger the integrity of the United States-Turkey alliance and undermine NATO,’ the resolution said.
According to an unclassified report from the Department of Defence on the status of relationship with Turkey, the country has invested $1.25 billion towards the JSF program, ‘with a planned procurement of 100 F-35As.’