Top US general and NATO’s supreme commander, Curtis Scaparrotti, recently suggested that the Pentagon could cancel the delivery of 100 F-35 fighter jets to Turkey if Ankara continued to pursue the purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile system.
In Turkey’s political and military establishment, the US general’s suggestion was read as a veiled threat, though Ankara has dealt with similar statements in the recent past.
In a previous report to the Congress, Washington bluntly indicated that Turkey’s planned S-400 purchase could lead the US to terminate Ankara’s participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Programme.
“My best military advice would be that we don’t then follow through with the F-35, flying it, or working with an ally that is working with Russian systems, particularly air defence systems, with one of our most advanced technological capabilities,” said Scaparrotti, during a testimony in the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 5.
According to the original delivery plan, Turkey should have received the fighter jets last year. But President Donald Trump’s administration delayed the delivery for the second time in August, angering Ankara.
“The administration will reassess Turkey’s continued participation as one of eight partner nations should they continue with their purchase of the S-400,” stated the classified Pentagon report, which TRT World was able to access, in November.
Officials in Turkey’s defence ministry are watching the changing winds in the US very closely and the common consensus is that Ankara would not yield to the US pressure when it comes to strengthening its defences against outside military threats.
Speaking to TRT World on condition of anonymity, a defence ministry official said that if the US cancelled the promised F-35 delivery, Ankara would be reluctant to buy any military equipment that’s made on American soil.
To back his argument, the official invoked the World War I military deal with Great Britain, when the Ottoman Empire paid £6 million ($7.9 million) in advance for two Britain-made warships and ended up getting nothing in return.
Some experts later argued that “British treachery” was one of the factors for the Ottoman Empire joining the Germany-led alliance against the British-French axis at the time.
“Because of that, since then, we have not bought any major military equipment from Britain,” the defence official told TRT World.
In the same breath, the official however emphasised that Turkey does not expect the same kind of treatment from the US.
But US-Turkey ties are not just affected by Ankara’s S-400s agreement with Moscow, there are other issues that haunt their bilateral ties. The most critical one is Washington’s support of the YPG, the Syrian wing of the PKK, which is recognised as a terrorist organisation by both Turkey and the US. As a result, Turkey has gravitated towards Russia to resolve the Syria crisis.
“Turkey has been fulfilling all of its obligations without exception, concerning the F-35 project,” the official said. “We expect the same sensitivity from our US counterparts.”
Since 2002, Turkey has invested more than $1.5 billion in the JSF program, which is the world’s most expensive arms project to date. Ankara is also a key producer of the F-35 manufacturing parts for all variants and customers.
Despite the negative signals coming from Washington, Ankara has been firmly continuing its preparations to receive the fighter jets.
In Malatya, an eastern Turkish province, the construction of the base that will host the F-35s continues without any interruption, the official said.
A Turkish pilot and servicemen training programme also continues at the Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, in the US, and Ankara is still paying for other complementary programmes and participating in the related meetings with its American counterparts, he added.
“We will buy S-400s [from Russians] in any case,” the official also said.
For years, Turkey, which is located between Europe and the Middle East, has sought a reliable air and missile defence system to protect its geopolitically sensitive borders against various threats stemming from its western and eastern fronts.
After Washington placed obstacles in the way of Ankara procuring the Patriot missile system, Turkey has turned to Moscow to receive the S-400s, which is one of the world’s most advanced long-range anti-aircraft systems, and signed an agreement with Russia in July 2017.
Russia, which has recently demonstrated both its political assertiveness and new military technology in locations ranging from Ukraine to Syria, is confident about the reliability of its arms.
“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin has shown super-high-tech weapons which actually decapitalise most of the American investments and their future investments in this strategic field,” said Sergei Karaganov, an influential Russian political scientist and a former foreign policy adviser to the Kremlin, during an extensive interview with TRT World in early October.
“These supersonic cruise missiles [S-400s], which penetrate any defence say that we have arms race without participating in it,” Karaganov added.
But in terms of procuring the Patriot system, there has also recently been good news for Turkey, according to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
“A positive response came from the Americans to the last letter we sent regarding the Patriot issue two years ago and negotiations have begun,” Cavusoglu said last week.