US threatens to block Turkey jets if Russia's S-400 deal goes through

US threatens to block Turkey jets if Russia's S-400 deal goes through
Washington has threatened to block the delivery of F-35 jets to Turkey if Ankara goes ahead with the purchase of Russia's S-400 anti-aircraft missiles.
3 min read
27 June, 2018
The S-400 has been described as 'one of the best air defence systems' [Getty]
The US could block the delivery of F-35 stealth jets to Turkey if Ankara purchases Russia's lauded S-400 air defence system, said a senior official on Wednesday.

Lockheed Martin, a US defence giant, delivered an F-35 to Turkish officials last week in Texas, amid warnings that the programme could be halted.

The advanced jets will remain in Arizona as Turkish pilots are trained, allowing the State Department time to intervene, a top official in a Senate hearing said.

Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations committee, the assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell said, "in this programme the US maintains custody of aircraft until they are transferred. That normally occurs after a lengthy training process".

"We believe that we have existing legal authorities that would allow us to withhold transfer under certain circumstances, including national security concerns," he said.

"Given that, we believe that we continue to have time and ability to assure that Turkey does not move forward on S-400 before having to take a decision on F-35," he explained.

The US delivered its first shipment of F-35 stealth fighter jets to Turkey last week, despite tensions with the country and Washington lawmakers' opposition to the sale.

Launched in the early 1990s, the F-35 is considered the most expensive weapons system in US history, with an estimated cost of some $400 billion and a goal to produce 2,500 aircraft in the coming years.

The S-400 has been described as "one of the best air defence systems" in the world, and has attracted interest from a number of states in the region, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

The slated sale of the S-400 to Turkey has angered its western allies in NATO, wary of Ankara's growing military ties with Moscow.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was re-elected at the weekend with increased presidential powers on Sunday.

His administration is in dispute with its NATO ally Washington on a number of points, including its repeatedly stated intent to deploy Russia's S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.

This would mean Turkey's defences are not compatible with those of its allies, and put it in breach of US sanctions aimed at hobbling Russia's defence export sector.

US lawmakers are working on ways to punish Turkey if it buys the S-400.

But Mitchell said President Donald Trump's administration already has the powers its needs under existing sanctions laws.

He said the US had been clear that "an acquisition of S-400 will inevitably affect the prospects for Turkish military-industrial cooperation with the United States, including F-35s".

"We can't be any clearer in saying, both privately and publicly: a decision on S-400s will qualitatively change the US-Turkish relationship in a way that would be very difficult to repair."

Turkey said the agreement on the S-400 system had already been reached, but Mitchell told lawmakers that Washington would judge this "when there's actual delivery of the technology".