S-400 / Turkey: US threatens to suspend training for future F-35 Turkish pilots
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Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO, Andrew Winternitz, has warned Turkey of its intention to acquire Russian air defense systems S-400 “Triumph.”
“Turkey’s purchase of S-400 air defense systems creates an unacceptable risk for the United States. There is no measure that can lessen our concerns about this,” said Winternitz at the EU & Foreign Policy Defense Forum on June 6. “This jeopardizes the advantages that the F-35s have over the Russian defenses in the event of conflict” while being “incompatible” with the “commitments” made by Ankara “with regard to NATO.”
“The S-400 is a Russian system designed to shoot down an aircraft like the F-35. […] And it is inconceivable to imagine that Russia is not taking advantage of this opportunity to collect intelligence,” Kathryn Wheelbarger, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, also said a few days earlier.
As a reminder, Turkey is a partner of the so-called 5th generation F-35 aircraft program, led by Lockheed-Martin. And it ordered 100 units. At the same time, it also intends to procure four S-400 air defense batteries from Russia. Hence the current tensions between Ankara and Washington.
Currently, six pilots and some twenty Turkish technicians are present at Luke Air Force Base to undergo training and training to implement the F-35. However, according to Reuters, the United States has also decided to train additional Turkish airmen, as long as Ankara will not give up the purchase of S-400 systems.
In fact, the administration intends to go even further. Indeed, according to Foreign Policy magazine, Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan sent a letter to Hulusi Akar, his counterpart in Ankara, to warn him that if Turkey persisted in wanting to acquire S-400, the training of the Turkish F-35 pilots was to be suspended as of July 31st. And this also applies to technicians. Moreover, they must have left the bases of Luke and Eglin on that date.
“If it goes to the end of the reception of the S-400, Turkey will pay very dearly,” had also warned Morgan Ortagus, the spokesman for US diplomacy, before threatening Ankara sanctions “very hard,” which would be added to the suspension of F-35 deliveries.
Only the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, remains adamant on this issue. “We have an agreement [with Russia]. We are determined. There is no question of backtracking,” he assured, once again, on June 4th. Turkey even plans to participate in the production of the S-500, the future Russian air defense system.
Invited to speak before the Foreign Affairs and Armed Forces Committee of the French Senate, Faruk Kaymakci, the number two Turkish diplomat, explained the position of his government in this affair.
“Regarding the S-400 missiles, in our eyes, it was not a choice, it was an obligation. The crisis in Syria led to missile and mortar attacks on Turkey, which killed 400 people, half of them Syrian. We have asked our allies to help us by supporting Turkey’s air defense with such a system. We initially received support from the United States, Spain, Italy, and Germany, but the United States and Germany subsequently withdrew.”
“Russia was not our first choice, but our allies did not respond to our needs. We then went to China, but Russia made us a proposal that suited us better because it included a transfer of technology,” added the Turkish Deputy Minister.
However, he said, it is not Ankara’s intention to “cooperate with Russia to destroy NATO or create an alternative to this organization.”
“Turkey belongs to the West, Turkey belongs to NATO. We were the first to answer NATO’s call during the Cold War, then in the Balkans and Afghanistan, but when we needed the Alliance, we did not receive help. If it is an alliance of solidarity and common defense, we must act together.” Mr. Kaymakci continued.
“The acquisition of this system is not a change of alliance, it is an answer to a need,” insisted the Turkish leader. However, he stressed, “we must not forget the reality of Russia in the region” and Ankara needs to “cooperate” with Moscow on the Syrian file.