The U.S. is halting the delivery of equipment for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey. Turkey, a longtime partner in the F-35 program, is also determined to purchase the S-400 surface to air missile system from Russia. The U.S. is concerned that secret data related to the F-35 could flow from Turkey to Russia, compromising the stealthy fighter jet.
, the U.S. is halting the delivery of training equipment and other hardware associated with the F-35 to Turkey. Washington is also considering removing Turkey from the worldwide production system established to build F-35s. Ankara builds parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays, a boon for the country’s aerospace industry. These parts would need to be made somewhere else in a way that doesn’t slow down production of the jets for the U.S. and international customers.
Turkey is pushing forward with its plan to buy the . Manufactured by Russia, the S-400 is similar to but less expensive than the U.S. made Patriot missile system. The U.S. has warned Turkey that the S-400 is incompatible with NATO’s existing air defense protocols, particularly identify friend or foe (IFF) systems, and cannot be linked with the systems of other NATO countries.
Number one on Washington’s list of concerns however is the increasingly close relationship between Turkey and Russia, and the possibility that Russia could get its hands on classified F-35 data. That data could conceivably then be used to improve the ability of Russian weapons to detect and destroy the F-35. As Russia’s most advanced surface-to-air missile system, the S-400 is the F-35’s greatest threat from the ground.
Turkey currently has about two F-35 jets right now, and Turkish pilots are training to fly the jets at bases in the American Southwest. Turkey has committed to buy 100 F-35 jets.
Turkey’s commitment to buy the S-400, on the other hand, is hard to explain. While the S-400 is a capable and relatively inexpensive system, its inability to work with other NATO systems is a major drawback. Ankara seems perfectly willing to go ahead with the purchase at the expense of the privilege of buying the only fifth generation fighter available on the market, and at the expense of its its reputation as a reliable ally to other NATO countries.