Ankara (TM) – The United States could soon freeze preparations for delivering F-35 fighter jets to Turkey in what would be the strongest signal yet by Washington that Ankara cannot have both the advanced aircraft and Russia’s S-400 air defense system. Reuters reported in an exclusive on Thursday, citing officials.
The United States is nearing an inflection point in a years-long standoff with Turkey, a NATO ally, after so far failing to sway President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that buying a Russian air defense system would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft.
“The S-400 is a computer. The F-35 is a computer. You don’t hook your computer to your adversary’s computer, and that’s basically what we would be doing,” Katie Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told Reuters.
While no decision has been made yet, US officials confirmed that Washington was considering halting steps now underway to ready Turkey to receive the F-35, which is built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
“There [are] decisions that come up constantly about things being delivered in anticipation of them eventually taking custody of the planes,” said Wheelbarger.
“So there’s a lot of things in train that can be paused to send signals to them [that we’re serious],” she added, without detailing those steps.
However, another US official said one of the measures the United States was looking at was alternatives to an engine depot in Turkey, without giving more details. The official said any potential alternatives would likely be somewhere in Western Europe. Turkey is home to an F-35 engine overhaul depot in the western city of Eskişehir.
If Turkey was removed from the F-35 program, it would be the most serious crisis in the relationship between the two allies in decades, according to Bülent Alirıza, director of the Turkey project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The strains on ties between Washington and Ankara already extend beyond the F-35 to include strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of US consular staff.
“This [the F-35 standoff] is really a symptom, not a cause of the problem between the two countries,” Alirıza said.