By the end of the year, Turkey will have either F-35 advanced fighter aircraft on its soil or a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system. It will not have both.
The choice made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey will have profound consequences for his country’s place in the world, its relationship with the United States and its standing in NATO.
The F-35 program is the world’s largest fifth-generation fighter aircraft program, with more than a trillion dollars in investment from a dozen international partners, including Turkey, and customers. In large part, the ability of the United States and its allies to maintain a military advantage in the skies is riding on the program.
In July 2017, Turkey announced that it would purchase the S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system from Russia. The S-400 is the most advanced system produced to date in Russia’s quest to defeat stealth technology — the system Russia built to shoot down the F-35 fighters.
Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 would be incompatible with its commitments to NATO and reduce its interoperability with allies. Purchasing the S-400 would create an unacceptable risk because its radar system could enable the Russian military to figure out how the F-35 operates. That threat compelled the Pentagon to suspend some activities associated with Turkey’s F-35s last week.
Turkey has legitimate air defense needs. The United States, since 2012, has offered the Patriot air defense system as an alternative to the S-400, but Turkey has rejected that offer. With the S-400 scheduled to arrive in Turkey in July and the F-35s scheduled to arrive in November, it is time for President Erdogan to choose. It is our hope he will choose to abandon the S-400, defend Turkish skies with the Patriot system and save the F-35 arrangement.
If President Erdogan fails to make this choice and accepts delivery of the S-400, Turkey will be sanctioned as required by United States law under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. Sanctions will hit Turkey’s economy hard — rattling international markets, scaring away foreign direct investment and crippling Turkey’s aerospace and defense industry.
Further, no F-35s will ever reach Turkish soil. And Turkish participation in the F-35 program, including manufacturing parts, repairing and servicing the fighters, will be terminated, taking Turkish companies out of the manufacturing and supply chain for the program.
We are committed to taking all necessary legislative action to ensure this is the case. Turkey is an important partner in the F-35 program, but it is not irreplaceable.
Abandoning the F-35 will have severe consequences for Ankara. Turkey has already invested more than $1.25 billion in the F-35 program, and that will be squandered. It will not receive the more than 100 F-35s it planned to purchase, and it will be forced to settle for a less-capable fighter aircraft that will not arrive for many years.
Turkish companies that produce parts for the F-35 will see their orders dry up completely. Its F-35 engine maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade facility will see all its work go to other facilities in Europe. President Erdogan’s hope to make the Turkish defense industry a key pillar of economic growth for the future will be dashed.
We do not seek to harm our Turkish friends. Indeed, we hope it will be possible to enhance American-Turkish cooperation on Syria, the Black Sea, counterterrorism and other issues of mutual concern. We seek only to protect the F-35 program and the capabilities of the NATO alliance, including allies like Turkey.
We understand that Turkey has a relationship of necessity with Russia — on Syria, energy, agriculture, tourism and more. If President Erdogan walks away from the S-400, Mr. Putin may retaliate in one or more of these areas. In that unfortunate event, we commit to do all we can to assist Turkey as it weathers the storm.
Paying tribute to the Kremlin with the purchase of the S-400 is not in Turkey’s interests. Mr. Putin is not an ally of Turkey any more than the Soviets or the czars. His aggression in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria has made Turkey less safe. Now Mr. Putin is trying to divide Turkey from the West with the S-400s.
If he succeeds, what little regard he has for Turkey’s interests will shrink further. The more isolated Turkey is from its allies, the more power Mr. Putin will have in the relationship: Russia does what it can, Turkey suffers what it must.
Mr. Putin fears and respects a Turkey strategically anchored in the West and committed to NATO. We hope President Erdogan will choose that future for Turkey by rejecting Mr. Putin’s divisive S-400 ploy, meeting its air defense requirement with the Patriot system and moving forward as a critical partner in the F-35 program.
Jim Inhofe is a Republican Senator from Oklahoma. Jack Reed is a Democratic Senator from Rhode Island. Jim Risch is a Republican Senator from Idaho. Bob Menendez is a Democratic Senator from New Jersey.
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