U.S. moves closer to killing F-35 jet sale to Turkey over Russia fears

April 1, 2019 GMT

The Pentagon is canceling all transfers of critical equipment related to the sale of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey, in what is seen as the first steps toward the outright cancellation of Ankara’s purchase of the cutting-edge fighter jet.

Defense Department officials informed their Turkish counterparts of the move this week, putting a stop to all scheduled shipments of F-35-related material indefinitely, Reuters reported Monday. The move comes amid Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plan to acquire the Russian-built S-400 missile defense system.

“The United States has been clear that Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 is unacceptable. Therefore, the DoD has initiated steps necessary to ensure prudent program planning and resiliency of the F-35 supply chain” without Turkey’s involvement, acting Pentagon spokesman Charles Summers said in a statement Monday.

Turkey, a NATO ally, had been one of the earliest international participants in the F-35 program. Ankara was supposed to receive 100 F-35s as early as the fall. But that deal is now in danger of completely falling apart.

“Our important dialogue on this matter will continue, however should Turkey procure the S-400, their continued participation in the F-35 program is at risk,” Mr. Summers added.

Ties have been strained by disagreements between Ankara and Washington over Syria, Iran, Venezuela and the treatment of the region’s Kurds. U.S. and NATO officials fear the mixing of the Russian defense system and the F-35 could give Moscow critical intelligence on the new jet’s capabilities and features.

The top U.S. general for NATO and military operations in Europe, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, told the Senate Armed Services Committee this month that it is his “best military advice” to reject the sale of the F-35 to Turkey if the Russian missile defense deal goes through.

Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Chris Van Hollen and Republican Sens. James Lankford and Thom Tillis introduced a bipartisan bill last week that would effectively block the Turkish jet sale.