Turkey will pursue Russian fighter jet technology should the United States boot out Ankara from the multinational group developing the F-35 Lightning II, Defense News reported citing an unnamed Turkish official.
“Russian fighter technology would be the first best choice if our American allies behaved in an un-allied way and questioned Turkey’s membership in the Joint Strike Fighter programme”, a senior military officer told the media outlet.
Washington has been pressuring its NATO ally to abandon the S-400 deal with Russia, threatening to expel Ankara from the F-35 programme and introduce sanctions under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
This month, the Pentagon announced that it had frozen deliveries and activities with Ankara concerning the F-35 project over the Turkish side’s decision to purchase the S-400.
Addressing the controversy, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated on Friday that Ankara had been unable to receive such systems from its NATO allies for some 10 years, and that Russia’s air defence systems do not pose a threat to US fifth-generation stealth fighter jets:
“The United States says that S-400 will increase the vulnerability of F-35 aircraft. We do not think so but let the experts express their opinion. We have proposed to create a joint commission, if they are so concerned about that. However, we have not received a response from the United States so far”.
Cavusoglu stressed that the S-400s will be under Ankara’s total control and insisted that Turkey’s NATO allies “must understand that we need air defence systems very urgently, and if we do not receive them from our allies, then we will take them where we can”.
Ankara, for its part, has maintained that the S-400s were not connected to the security of NATO, the US or the F-35 in any way, and the decision to purchase the systems “does not target a third country”.
Russia and Turkey sealed the $2.5 billion S-400 deal in December 2017, having signed a loan agreement for the shipment of a total of four batteries. The first delivery is scheduled for July 2019, according to Turkish authorities.