Trump officials pressure Turkey to dump Russian missile system

Trump officials pressure Turkey to dump Russian missile system
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The Trump administration has raised the stakes on Turkey over the NATO ally’s plan to buy a Russian missile defense system, threatening new repercussions that put billions of dollars on the line for both countries if Ankara goes through with the deal.

The Pentagon announced Friday it would pull Turkey from participation in building and maintaining the F-35 Lightning II fighter, moving industrial operations to other countries, unless Ankara gives up its plans to purchase the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system.

The United States is “unwinding” Turkey’s involvement in the F-35 program, a top Pentagon official told reporters on Friday.

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“As we have very clearly communicated at all levels, Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400 system. Thus, we need to begin unwinding Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program,” said Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Contracts given to Turkish companies, which are responsible for building 937 parts used in the F-35 — including those used in the landing gear and aircraft's main body — would begin to be phased out in early 2020 through a “very disciplined and graceful wind-down,” Lord said.

“We want to have a process that is not disruptive to the program and allows the Turks to wind down their activities, as well,” she added.

In addition, the Pentagon would pull Turkish applicants from a training program that teaches pilots to fly the F-35, order that all Turkish personnel linked to the F-35 program leave the United States, and rescind invitations to allow Turkey to participate in an annual F-35 roundtable or future decisions on the aircraft.

The moves, outlined in a letter sent this week by acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanTrump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions Trump says he intends to nominate Esper to lead Pentagon Shanahan officially departs Pentagon MORE to the Turkish defense minister, would take place by July 31 if the nation still decides to buy the Russian system.

“If Turkey procures the S-400 ... our two countries must develop a plan to discontinue Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program,” Shanahan wrote to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. “While we seek to maintain our valued relationship, Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400.”

Should Turkey receive the S-400 before July 31, the planned penalties will be “greatly accelerated,” Lord said.

Turkey, one of nine partner countries involved in the F-35, plans to eventually buy at least 100 of the advanced fighter jets and is expected to play a significant role in sustaining the aircraft further down the road.

In the past year, however, Washington has failed to sway Ankara from its plan to buy the S-400, which is not compatible with NATO systems. U.S. officials fear it will allow Moscow to gather closely guarded information on the F-35, which is made by Lockheed Martin.

“We do not want to have the F-35 in close proximity to the S-400 over a period of time because of the ability to understand the profile of the F-35,” Lord said.

Shanahan, meanwhile, said in his letter that Turkey's S-400 buy will hinder the country’s “ability to enhance or maintain cooperation with the United States and within NATO, lead to Turkish strategic and economic over-dependence on Russia, and undermine Turkey's very capable defense industry and ambitious economic development goals.”

Turkey first made the S-400 deal with Russia for a reported $2.5 billion in 2017, brushing aside warnings from the United States, which cautioned that such a move would have political repercussions.

The head of Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport said in April that Moscow plans to start delivering the missile system in July, while the Turkish Foreign Ministry has repeatedly said the country doesn’t intend to give up its S-400 purchase.

Tensions have reached a boiling point in the past few months, with the United States halting F-35 material deliveries to Turkey, where an engine overhaul facility had been planned.

The administration has also threatened to impose sanctions on Ankara if it goes through with the Moscow deal. Sanctions from Congress as part of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act — a penalty on U.S. partners that buy Russian military equipment — could go into effect in the event of the S-400 purchase.

But Turkey has remained defiant, with the government announcing this week that the nation sent personnel to Russia for training on the S-400.

Administration officials are still hoping that it can sidestep such retaliation if Turkey agrees to buy the U.S.-developed Patriot air and missile defense system, which is made by Raytheon.

The NATO ally has not taken the U.S. up on the offer, as Washington will not hand over the system’s sensitive missile technology.

Andrew Winternitz, the acting deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO, would not say on Friday whether the United States has offered such a concession.

“We’ve discussed with them; we’ve made an offer on what we can do. I’m not going to get into the specifics of the offer, but obviously we will always protect our technology as best we can,” he said, speaking alongside Lord.

In the meantime, the Pentagon is preparing to rework the F-35 supply chain to cut out Turkey. With nearly 1,000 F-35 parts supplied by Turkey — more than 400 of which are sole-sourced — both Lockheed and Pratt & Whitney, the maker of the F-35 engine, would have to modify supply chains and production schedules.

That could have implications for how quickly aircraft could be made. F-35 program executive Vice Adm. Mat Winter said in April that 50 to 75 aircraft could be delayed more than two years if Turkey is pulled from the program.

“That’s what we are particularly focused on and we are working with Lockheed Martin on the aircraft side, with Pratt & Whitney on the engine side to find alternate sources,” Lord said.

She added that disruptions would happen only if the Pentagon ends supply chain agreements with Turkey after the July 31 deadline.

Both Shanahan and Lord stressed that Turkey still has the option to change course.

In that case, Lord said, the steps to pull Turkish pilots from F-35 training will be reversed.

“None of the steps we are taking are irreversible,” Lord said. “If Turkey chooses to forgo delivery of the S-400, we look forward to restoring normal program activity.”