The US Senate overwhelmingly voted late on Monday to block the sale of the F-35 fighter jet to Turkey over the country’s military deals with Russia and continued detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson.
By a vote of 85 to 10, the bipartisan majority approved the bill to halt the transfer of at least 100 F-35 jets to Turkey. Senators cited the NATO member's policies such as talks with Russia to buy an S-400 anti-aircraft weapons system as threatening to the alliance.
The Senate approved the Turkey amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) filed by Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Thom Tillis and James Lankford. Now the US House of Representatives will take up the bill and has to approve it for any sale is stopped.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told local media on Tuesday that the decision was “lamentable” and against the spirit of the NATO. Mr Yildirim, speaking ahead of a contentious election on Sunday, warned that his government was “not without alternatives.”
The NDAA, a 1,140-page document, calls for the removal of Ankara from the F-35 programme. In 2002, Turkey became a member of the Joint Strike Fighter programme and has at least 100 F-35 fighters on order from the United States.
Primarily it warns Turkey that the purchase the S-400 system as it would violate the “Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act” passed by Congress in 2017. This bill calls on President Donald Trump to apply sanctions on “any individual or entity” engaged in the deals to buy Russian weapons such as the air defence system. If the S-400 deal is concluded, Turkey and its officials could be targeted.
The new bill lists the S-400 deal as a threat to the security of the NATO alliance, and calls on US Secretary to Defence James Mattis to submit “a plan to remove the Government of the Republic of Turkey from participation in the F-35 programme.”
The four-step plan must include:
1. The steps required to unwind industrial participation of Turkish industry in the manufacturing and assembly of the F-35 programme.
2. A breakdown of the costs associated with replacing tooling and other manufacturing materials held by Turkish industry.
3. The timelines associated with the removal of the Government of the Republic of Turkey and Turkish industry from participation in the F-35 programme, so as to cause the least impact on the remaining international programme partners.
4. The steps required to prohibit the transfer of any F-35 aircraft currently owned and operated, by the Government of the Republic of Turkey, from the territory of the United States.
Congress deliberations between the House and the Senate could take another month before a block effectively takes place. The US defence giant Lockheed Martin is expected to transfer two F-35 jets to Turkey on Thursday, a move that is still expected to legally sail through.