Turkey’s foreign minister claimed April 3 that his country’s intended purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system will not pose a threat to NATO systems, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Speaking at an event commemorating NATO’s 70th anniversary in Washington, D.C., Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said repeatedly that the S-400 sale is “a done deal,” adding at one point, “we will not step back from this.”
Çavuşoğlu’s remarks come just days after the Pentagon announced it is ceasing deliveries of F-35 aircraft and equipment to Turkey in response to the proposed S-400 sale and less than a week after U.S. lawmakers introduced a bill banning the sale of F-35s to Ankara for the same reason (Defense Daily, April 1).
U.S. government officials and lawmakers have repeatedly stressed the concern of having a Russian-made system potentially linked to the Lockheed Martin [LMT]-made F-35, but Çavuşoğlu said the air defense system is not intended to be integrated with the aircraft or other systems used by its NATO partners.
“This is not our aim. This is for our own use, this is a defense system, and it will not be integrated [onto a] NATO system,” he said. The United States should form a technical working group “to make sure that this system will not be a threat,” he added.
Should Congress block the sale of F-35s to Turkey, it would have “a very negative impact” on U.S.-Turkey bilateral relations, Çavuşoğlu said. “It is the responsibility of both [countries] … to explain this situation to Congress and why Turkey had to buy S-400s and why this program is important,” he said.
President Trump promised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a recent phone call “that he will do his best to resolve this issue,” the foreign minister said.
Ankara is in “urgent need” of an air defense system as its neighbors in the region are increasing investment in missile capabilities, and NATO “is not capable enough to cover our airspace yet,” he said.
He said that the United States put Turkey in the position of seeking out the S-400 because it was unable to procure the Raytheon [RTN]-Lockheed Martin [LMT]-made Patriot air defense system for the last decade.
“We couldn’t get it for the last 10 years. That’s why we had to buy from Russia and we tried to buy from other allies as well. It didn’t work,” he said.
He confirmed that Turkey has received a recent proposal from the United States to sell the Patriot system. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said last week during a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing that “we need [Turkey] to buy Patriot.”
The State Department last December approved a $3.5 billion Patriot missile system deal with Turkey, which would include 80 Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced and 60 PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles (Defense Daily, Dec. 19, 2018).
However, the proposal “doesn’t guarantee” that the U.S. government will be able to sell Patriot to Turkey, the foreign minister noted Wednesday.
Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday that he is confident in the Patriot proposal, and that he still expects F-35 aircraft to be delivered to Turkey, Task & Purpose reported that day. “I am very confident in the Patriot proposal that we’ve delivered to Turkey, its availability, its pricing, and very importantly, the industrial participation that comes along with the Patriot system,” he said.
Turkey not only has committed to procuring up to 100 F-35 aircraft but it is one of several industry partners on the program, and Turkish companies are building various components including engine fuselages in partnership with Northrop Grumman [NOC], the panoramic cockpit display and parts of the electrical wiring and interconnection system, according to Lockheed Martin.
The Pentagon said Monday that it is currently looking into secondary sources of supply for Turkish-produced parts of the F-35.
The country has already contributed $1.2 billion to the program and an additional $2.3 billion is “on the way,” Çavuşoğlu noted.
While severing F-35 production could cost Turkey up to $12 billion in industrial opportunities, Çavuşoğlu said his country’s industry is not dependent solely upon the program, and is continuing to improve and work to support itself into the future.
“Turkish people understand very well … the threat in the neighborhood,” he said. “We are not living in a very peaceful region.”