The general in charge of U.S. forces in Europe said Tuesday that he would recommend that the United States withhold delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey if Ankara goes through with the purchase of a Russian air defense system.
“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’s working with Russian systems, particularly air defense systems,” said Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
His appearance comes amid plans by Turkey, a NATO ally, to buy Russia’s S-400 long-range air defense system. The United States has been trying to convince the nation to buy a Patriot system instead.
Scaparrotti, who also serves as the supreme allied commander of NATO, confirmed Tuesday that Trump administration officials are in Turkey working on the issue.
“We, the United States, have a team there today talking to the Turks, and I’m sure that a very candid conversation about the S-400 and the potential consequences are a part of that conversation,” he said.
The United States and other NATO allies have warned the S-400 system will not work with alliance defense systems. The United States has also warned Turkey that it could be subject to U.S. sanctions against those who do business with Russia’s defense industry if the sale goes through.
U.S. officials have also expressed concerns the S-400 could be used to gather information on the F-35.
Last year’s defense policy bill blocked delivery of the F-35s until the Pentagon delivered Congress a report on U.S.-Turkish relations, a requirement the Pentagon fulfilled earlier this year. Turkey is supposed to eventually get 116 of the fighter jets.
One issue with taking Ankara out of the F-35 program, though, is that parts of the jet are built in Turkey.
Scaparrotti said Tuesday that issue is still being worked through.
“But for them, I would just underscore the fact that this is a huge decision for Turkey, and we’ve continuously — I’ve talked to them personally, as all of our leadership has,” he continued.
“I would hope that they would reconsider this one decision on S-400. One system, but potentially forfeit many of the other systems and one of the most important systems we could provide them.”