The State Department has approved a $3.5 billion Patriot missile system deal with Turkey amid congressional concerns on Ankara’s potential purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system.
The potential sale, announced Tuesday evening, would include 80 Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced and 60 PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles.
“Turkey is a member of and critical enabling platform for the Defeat-ISIS campaign and continues to be an essential element of our National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy efforts to compete against great powers in both Europe and the Middle East,” State Department officials wrote in a statement. “The proposed sale will increase the defensive capabilities of the Turkey military to guard against hostile aggression and shield NATO Allies who might train and operate within Turkey’s borders.”
Lawmakers have previously raised the possibility of Turkey being removed from the F-35 program if it follows through on its plan to purchase the Russian missile defense system.
Pentagon officials believe the S-400 could allow Russia to gain backdoor access to sensitive military information if Turkey were to integrate the system with NATO assets, including the F-35.
Turkey is scheduled to receive 100 F-35s over the span of the program, and the most recent defense authorization bill directed the Pentagon to deliver a report detailing the impacts of a potential S-400 purchase (Defense Daily, July 24).
The Patriot deal would also include four AN/MPQ-65 radar sets, four engagement control stations, 10 antenna mast groups and 20 M903 launching stations.
Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee appeared tentatively supportive of the potential sale on Wednesday, with the caveat that the Kurdish forces that have been allied with U.S. troops in the war against ISIS must be protected. Turkey has long considered members of the Kurdish YPG group to be linked to terrorism, and earlier this week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to launch an attack on Kurdish forces in Syria.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who sits on the Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation and the Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counter-Terrorism, said, “It’s very much in our interest to have [Turkey] as allies.”
He acknowledged, however, that there have been “frustrations” with Ankara, “the immediate one … with the Kurds and ensuring that they don’t take any actions against the Kurdish forces in Syria that have been so loyal to us.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, said the United States must use “the equities we have with Turkey to try to get them to be more constructive in Syria.”
“We’ve led our Kurdish allies in Syria down a path potentially to destruction and we’ve got fewer points of leverage these days with Turkey than ever before, but military sales is one of them,” he added.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who sits on the European and Regional Security subcommittee, said he needed more time to review the proposed sale, but noted he has had concerns about the potential S-400 sale, and whether it would provide a way “to link Russian planes to our defense systems.”
Congress is alerted of proposed sales for major defense equipment valued at $14 million or more, defense articles or services valued at $50 million or more, or design and construction services valued at $200 million or more. If the sale is to NATO, a NATO member state, Japan, Australia or New Zealand, the letter of intent must be presented to Congress at least 15 days prior to the proposed sale date, and at least 30 days prior for other countries.
In order to block or modify a sale, Congress must pass legislation expressing its will on the sale, and be capable of overriding a possible presidential veto. Lawmakers are free to pass legislation to block or modify an arms sale any time up to the point of delivery.
Vivienne Machi contributed to this report.