US expels Turkey from F-35 programme over Russian S-400 purchase

Washington says Ankara was repeatedly warned not to take delivery of the S-400 missile defence system

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 24, 2015 A Dutch Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet takes off at Edwards Air Force Base, California The White House confirmed on July 17, 2019, that Turkey would no longer be permitted to join in NATO's F-35 fighter program after it purchased a Russian missile defense system.
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The US has formally initiated the process to expel Turkey from the F-35 jet consortium in response to Ankara’s acquisition of the S-400 Russian missile defence system, despite repeated warnings from Washington and Nato.

“Unfortunately, Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defence systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said on Wednesday.

“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence-collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities.”

Turkey had been a member in the F-35 consortium since 2002, alongside the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Norway and Denmark.

The expulsion means it will lose training, imports and access to more than 100 F-35 fighters from Lockheed Martin.

Turkey on Thursday branded the move "unfair" and the Turkish foreign ministry said that "this one-sided step neither complies with the spirit of alliance nor is it based on legitimate reasons."

The head of Turkey's Defence Industry Directorate that they were not concerned by the temporary losses that local companies may face in the short term due to the move.

"Our companies may face losses initially, and even though issues like sanctions and more may lead to temporary losses for the defence industry, we think it will result in our defence industry becoming stronger," Ismail Demir said.

The move also means 18 months of negotiations between the US and Turkey failed to dissuade Ankara from obtaining the multibillion-dollar Russian system.

Last week, Ankara received the first shipment of S-400 parts and has since accepted 13 shipments.

"The administration has made multiple offers to move Turkey to the front of the line to receive the US Patriot air defence system,” the White House said.

It said that by acquiring the S-400, Turkey “undermines the commitments all Nato allies made to each other to move away from Russian systems".

But the White House maintained that the US-Turkey military relationship was strong.

"And we will continue to co-operate with Turkey extensively, mindful of constraints due to the presence of the S-400 system.”

The US undersecretary of defence for acquisition and sustainment, Ellen Lord, confirmed the termination, and said that the US and its F-35 partners agreed on the decision.

“Regrettably, Turkey will lose jobs and future economic opportunities from this decision," Ms Lord said.

They include $9 billion (Dh33.06bn) in F-35 work share, and could add further strain on the Turkish economy.

But shifting the supply chain away from Turkey would cost between $500 million and $600m, Ms Lord said.

Other countries, mainly in Europe, are looking to replace Turkey in the consortium.

Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East programme at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said that the US move to terminate Turkey’s membership was not surprising.

“It is only step one," Mr Stein said.

He said other moves could follow under the US sanctions law, which was passed in 2017 with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, and was designed to penalise countries for significant deals with Russia.

Mr Stein said the act was written to be "Trump-proof", in case the US President decided to veto Congress on imposing, sanctions on Ankara.

"It is hard to imagine how Turkey can escape more sanctions," he said. "it is just a question of how and when, not if."

European countries are also considering sanctions on Turkey.