The Pentagon plans to eject Turkey from the F-35 programme next month in response to its planned purchase of a Russian missile defence system, according to a letter from the acting US defence secretary.
Patrick Shanahan told his Turkish counterpart, defence minister Hulusi Akar, in a letter dated June 6 that the US will halt Turkish purchases of the F-35, a stealth fighter jet built by Lockheed Martin, and no longer allow the country’s military pilots to participate in training if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400, a Russian air defence system.
“If Turkey procures the S-400, as we discussed during our call on May 28, 2019, our two countries must develop a plan to discontinue Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program. While we seek to maintain our valued relationship, Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400,” Mr Shanahan wrote. “You still have the option to change course on the S-400.”
The US plans to suspend Turkey’s participation in the F-35 programme by July 31, he said in the letter, which was first reported by Bloomberg.
Tensions between the US and Turkey, both members of the Nato military alliance, have escalated in recent months over the planned acquisition of the S-400, a surface-to-air missile system designed to shoot down jets, and the future of US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria.
Mr Shanahan warned Turkey in his letter that moving forward on the S-400 may make it “challenging” for the US to boost bilateral trade and cited the possible imposition of sanctions.
He also said it would hinder Turkey’s “ability to enhance or maintain co-operation with the United States and within Nato, lead to Turkish strategic and economic overdependence on Russia, and undermine Turkey’s very capable defence industry and ambitious economic development goals”.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said earlier this week that it would not halt the purchase of the Russian air defence system and reiterated his offer to form a technical committee to examine US concerns that the S-400 would compromise the security of the F-35 fighter jet.
Ankara and Moscow have previously said that the Russian equipment could start arriving in Turkey as early as this month. If it does, the US Congress could ask Mr Trump to impose punitive measures on Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. Analysts warn that sanctions could inflict severe pain on the already fragile Turkish economy.