Turkey crosses “red line,” gets booted from F-35 partnership


Enlarge / Turkey’s planned purchase of F-35A Joint Strike Fighters has been vetoed in the wake of the Turkish purchase of Russian anti-air defenses. (credit: US Air Force)

Today, the White House officially announced that Turkey would not be allowed to purchase the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The US government had warned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that his government’s purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia would be incompatible with NATO systems and would trigger an exclusion of Turkey from the F-35 program. Turkey was a financial contributor to the F-35 development program and already had pilots in the US in training to fly the aircraft; those pilots were kicked off US training bases in June.

US and NATO partners are concerned that the S-400 systems, supported by Russian technicians, will essentially amount to an intelligence collection system for Russia on NATO aircraft and military operations. But Erdoğan has been steadily marching away from NATO since the July 2016 coup attempt against his government. That coup led to the arrest of many military officers who were the backbone of the Turkish military and had long relationships with NATO partners. Former head of the Turkish air force Akin Ozturk was one of over 2,000 former members of the military given life sentences.

In a speech on July 15 (the third anniversary of the coup attempt), Erdoğan welcomed the first components of S-400 systems to Turkey, saying that “the S-400s are the strongest defense system against those who want to attack our country… God willing, we are doing this as a joint investment with Russia and will continue to do so.” He added that “with God’s permission,” the missile systems would be fully deployed by April 2020.

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