The Trump Administration warned Turkey not to deploy the Russian S-400 air defence system if they want to procure the American F-35 combat aircraft for the Turkish Air Force fleet.
In a media statement published on 26 June, Pentagon Chief Spokesperson, Jonathan Hoffman, confirmed that Acting US Secretary of Defense, Mark T. Esper, met with Hulusi Akar, Minister of National Defense for Turkey, at the NATO Defence Minister Meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.
The spokesman of the US Department of Defense (DoD) highlighted that the two Defence Ministers had a frank and transparent discussion but said crystal-clear: “Secretary Esper reiterated that Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 air and missile defense system is incompatible with the F-35 programme and that Turkey will not be permitted to have both systems.”
In an effort to smoothen the current political tensions between Washington and Ankara, the Pentagon Spokesperson stated that the two leaders discussed the latest developments in Syria, regional security issues and bilateral relations, including defence cooperation. According to the media statement, the two Defence Ministers also reiterated their long commitment as close NATO allies and strategic partners. Hoffman said: “The U.S. and Turkey defense leaders reaffirmed their strong, multi-layered and continuous military-to-military relationship and their commitment to the NATO alliance.”
Despite these kind diplomatic words, the latest DoD statement underlines that the US Administration tries to avoid the deployment of Russia’s S-400 air defence missiles by all means since Russia’s leading-edge S-400 is regarded as an extremely effective air defence system which jeopardizes the penetration capability of Western combat aircraft.
Two weeks ago, former Acting US Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, had already informed the Turkish Government about the potential consequences if Ankara would not cancel the S-400 deal with Russia until the end of July 2019. According to a well-informed newspaper report, Washington warned Ankara that the F-35 training of Turkish pilots would be stopped, Turkey would be excluded as an industrial partner from the F-35 programme and deliveries of F-35 aircraft would be stopped as well.
Political observers are currently concerned about the political relations between the US and Turkey. At present, it is not clear whether a political compromise can be found which is acceptable for both sides. Should the Trump Administration continue its policy of maximum pressure and decide not to deliver the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft at all, it would be a clear setback for the United States since Turkey is one of the largest customers with a total of 100 F-35 aircraft on order.
Dr. Theodor Benien