Erdogan says Turkey to turn elsewhere if U.S. will not sell F-35s

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting of his ruling AK Party in Ankara, Turkey, July 26, 2019. Cem Oksuz/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Turkey would turn elsewhere for fighter jets if the United States will not sell it the F-35 jets, adding that a U.S. decision to cut Ankara from the program would not deter it from meeting its needs.

The United States said last week it was removing NATO ally Turkey from the F-35 program, as long threatened, after Ankara purchased and received delivery of Russian S-400 missile defenses that Washington sees as a threat.

Washington has also threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey, though Ankara has dismissed the warnings. It has instead put its trust in sympathetic comments from U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said that Turkey was treated “unfairly”. However, Trump has not ruled out sanctions on Turkey.

Erdogan, speaking publicly about the strained U.S. ties for the first time in 11 days, said he hoped U.S. officials would be “reasonable” on the question of sanctions, adding that Turkey may also reconsider its purchase of advanced Boeing aircraft from the United States.

“Are you not giving us the F-35s? Okay, then excuse us but we will once again have to take measures on that matter as well and we will turn elsewhere,” Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party.

“Even if we’re not getting F-35s, we are buying 100 advanced Boeing aircraft, the agreement is signed… At the moment, one of the Boeing planes has arrived and we are making the payments, we are good customers,” he said. “But, if things continue like this, we will have to reconsider this.”

Russia’s Rostec state conglomerate said Russia would be ready to supply its SU-35 jets to Turkey if Ankara requested them. But, Turkish officials said on Thursday there were no talks with Moscow on alternatives to the F-35 jets for now.

Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over a host of issues. Turkey has also been infuriated with U.S. support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, a main U.S. ally in the region that Ankara sees as a terrorist organization.

Ankara has warned that it would launch a military operation in northern Syria to wipe out the YPG if it could not agree with Washington on the planned safe zone in the region, saying it had run “out of patience.”

However, Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey is determined to destroy the “terror corridor” east of the Euphrates river in Syria no matter how talks on the safe zone conclude, as Ankara ramped up its threats of an offensive.

(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

U.S. removing Turkey from F-35 program after its Russian missile defense purchase

Turkey and U.S. flags are seen in this picture illustration taken August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Wednesday that it was removing Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program, a move long threatened and expected after Ankara began accepting delivery of an advanced Russian missile defense system last week.

The first parts of the S-400 air defense system were flown to the Murted military air base northwest of Ankara on Friday, sealing NATO ally Turkey’s deal with Russia, which Washington had struggled for months to prevent.

“The U.S. and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the program and initiate the process to formally remove Turkey from the program,” Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told a briefing.

Turkey’s foreign ministry said the move was unfair and could affect relations between the two countries.

Lord said moving the supply chain for the advanced fighter jet would cost the United States between $500 million and $600 million in non-recurring engineering costs.

Turkey makes more than 900 parts of the F-35, she said, adding the supply chain would transition from Turkish to mainly U.S. factories as Turkish suppliers are removed.

“Turkey will certainly and regrettably lose jobs and future economic opportunities from this decision,” Lord said. “It will no longer receive more than $9 billion in projected work share related to the F-35 over the life of the program.”

The F-35 stealth fighter jet, the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. arsenal, is used by NATO and other U.S. allies.

Washington is concerned that deploying the S-400 with the F-35 would allow Russia to gain too much inside information about the aircraft’s stealth system.

“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the White House said in a statement earlier on Wednesday.

Washington had long said the acquisition of the S-400 might lead to Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 program.

FRAYED TIES

After the Pentagon announcement, Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement: “We invite the United States to return from this mistake which would open irreparable wounds in strategic relations.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking at the Aspen Institute’s annual security forum in Aspen, Colorado, said he was concerned at Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 program.

But while the S-400 could not become part of NATO’s shared air and missile defenses, he said, Turkey has aircraft and radars that would remain part of the system.

“The S-400, the Russian air defense system, it’s not possible to integrate into the integrated NATO air defense and missile system, which is about sharing, you know, radar picture, about joint air policing, which is about shared capabilities. And Turkey has not asked for that,” Stoltenberg said.

The S-400 acquisition is one of several issues that have frayed ties between the two allies, including a dispute over strategy in Syria east of the Euphrates River, where the United States is allied with Kurdish forces that Turkey views as foes.

The Pentagon had already laid out a plan to remove Turkey from the program, which included halting training for Turkish pilots on the aircraft.

Lord said all the Turkish F-35 pilots and personnel had “firm plans” to leave the United States and were scheduled to leave by July 31.

Turkey will no longer be able to buy the 100 F-35s it had agreed to purchase.

“These would likely have been delivered at an annual rate of 8-12 aircraft/year through the 2020s,” Byron Callan, an analyst at Capital Alpha Partners, said in a research note on Wednesday.

The jet’s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp and the jet’s program office at the Pentagon “should be able to re-market those delivery positions,” Callan said.

Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Carolyn Nelson said: “Over the last several months we’ve been working to establish alternative sources of supply in the United States to quickly” adjust for the loss of Turkey’s contribution to the program.

The United States is considering expanding sales of the jets to five other nations, including Romania, Greece and Poland, as European allies bulk up their defenses in the face of a strengthening Russia.

David Trachtenberg, the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters at the briefing that the United States still valued its relationship with Turkey.

“Our strategic partnership continues, but as I said, this is a specific response to a specific action,” Trachtenberg said.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Mike Stone, David Alexander and Jonathan Landay in Washington and Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

Turkey says buying Russian defense system should not trigger U.S. sanctions

FILE PHOTO: New S-400 "Triumph" surface-to-air missile system after its deployment at a military base outside the town of Gvardeysk near Kaliningrad, Russia. Picture taken March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Vitaly Nevar/File Photo/File Photo

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Turkey’s purchase of a Russian air defense missile system should not trigger U.S. sanctions because Ankara is not an adversary of Washington and remains committed to the NATO alliance, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Monday.

Speaking at a U.S.-Turkey conference in Washington amid rising tensions between the two NATO allies over Ankara’s plan to buy the Russian S-400 missile system, Akar adopted a relatively conciliatory tone and urged to resolve issues via dialogue.

“Turkey is clearly not an adversary of the United States,” Akar said and added that therefore its procurement of the S-400 system should not be considered within the scope of U.S. sanctions designed to target America’s enemies.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that Washington had told Ankara it could face retribution for buying the S-400s under a sanctions law known as Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CATSAA).

“This procurement decision does not signify a change in Turkey’s course. I’d like to reiterate strongly that there is no change in Turkey’s commitment to NATO,” Akar said.

FILE PHOTO: A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt/File Photo/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt/File Photo/File Photo

The disagreement over the F-35 is the latest of a series of diplomatic disputes between the United States and Turkey including Turkish demands that the United States extradite Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria, and sanctions on Iran.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has refused to back down from Ankara’s planned purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system that the United States has said would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft, made by Lockheed Martin Corp . Turkey has said it will take delivery of the S-400s in July.

In early April, the United States halted delivery of equipment related to the stealthy F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey, marking the first concrete U.S. step to potentially blocking the delivery of the jet to the NATO ally.

Akar said Turkey was puzzled by the move and expected U.S. and other partners in the program to fulfill their obligations.

“We firmly believe that linking the S-400 to the F-35 project is unfortunate … We are one of the investors and partners and not just a buyer. We have invested over $1 billion … and fulfilled all our obligations,” he said.

Akar repeated Turkey’s offer to hold technical talks with the United States to address “technical concerns” over the S-400 purchase.

Turkey is also assessing a renewed offer from the United States to buy Patriot missile defense systems, Akar added.

“Recently we received the restated offer for the Patriots. This offer is now on the table, we are studying it carefully,” he said.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul; Editing by Dominic Evans and Phil Berlowitz)

Netanyahu says Israel ‘mightier’ as first F-35 fighter jets arrive

F-35 fighter jet - United States Military

By Ori Lewis

NEVATIM AIR BASE, Israel (Reuters) – – Israel on Monday became the first country after the United States to receive the U.S.-built F-35 stealth jet which will increase its ability to attack distant targets, including Iran.

The much-hyped arrival of the first two fighter jets was overshadowed by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s tweet that Lockheed Martin’s  whole F-35 project was too expensive, and the delivery was delayed for hours by bad weather preventing their take-off from Italy.

The squadron is expected to be the first operational outside the United States. The planes are the first of 50, costing around $100 million each.

“Our long arm has now become longer and mightier,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Nevatim air base in the southern Negev desert.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, also attending the ceremony which was delayed until after dark, said the planes were critical to maintaining Israel’s military edge in the region.

A U.S. squadron of the planes, which have suffered delays and cost overruns, became operational in August. The F-35 program is the Pentagon’s largest weapons project.

“The F-35 program and cost is out of control,” Trump said on Twitter, sending Lockheed Martin’s shares down 4 percent.

Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 programme leader, said the company understood concerns about affordability and had invested millions of dollars to try to reduce its price.

Israel, which finalised a 10-year, $38 billion arms deal from the United States this year, plans to maintain two F-35 squadrons.

Critics of the plane say it can carry a smaller weapons payload and has a shorter range than Israel’s current squadrons of U.S.-built F-15s and F-16s.

But some experts say the F-35’s stealth capabilities make up for this because it can be more accurate and fly a more direct route to its target. Israel’s air force mostly flies missions close to home, in the Gaza Strip and against arms shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria.

It is also believed to have carried out bombings in Sudan against arms shipments to Palestinian militants, and to have drawn up contingency plans against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Israel initially ordered 33 of the fighters but signed off on another 17 last month.

Nimrod Shefer, a retired Israeli air force major-general, said the new aircraft were a welcome addition.

“(There are) very low- to very high-altitude missiles … and targets that are becoming more and more difficult to detect and to destroy,” he said.

(Writing by Ori Lewis and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Robin Pomeroy)