23:48 GMT28 November 2020
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    Ankara’s decision in 2017 to purchase the Russian-made air defence system has contributed to a sharp decline in Turkish-US relations. Last month, Washington condemned “in the strongest terms” Turkey’s testing of its S-400s. NATO, meanwhile, has warned that the air defence system poses “risks” to allied aircraft.

    Turkey remains prepared to discuss the issue of the technical compatibility of its S-400 air defence systems with America’s advanced fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar has said.

    “We are ready to discuss with the United States any concerns about the technical compatibility of the S-400 with the F-35. In this regard, our proposal for a joint working group is still relevant,” Akar said, his remarks cited by CNN Turk.

    According to the defence minister, Turkey was keen to ensure the safe operation of F-35s since it is “not just a client for the F-35 programme,” but a partner nation, which makes “the safety of the F-35 as important [for Turkey] as it is for the United States.”

    Washington booted Turkey out of the F-35 programme in mid-2019 in connection with its S-400 purchase, and has repeatedly threatened to slap sanctions on its ally unless Ankara shipped its Russian-made air defences back to Russia.

    F-35
    © CC0 / Ronald Bradshaw
    F-35

    Turkish authorities have rejected Washington’s pressure. In late October, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused US authorities of not realising “who it is dealing with,” and urged America to get it over with and to slap Ankara with whatever S-400-related sanctions it may have in store.

    The United States and its NATO allies have repeatedly complained about the alleged technical problems posed by the S-400 to alliance warplanes. In late October, Washington warned that there would be “serious consequences” for the “security relationship” between the US and Turkey if Ankara continued to proceed with its S-400 testing activities.

    US officials have generally refrained from specifying what it is about the S-400 that makes it a danger to the F-35, although observers have suggested that the spat may be related to the Russian air defence system’s alleged ability to discover the costly jet’s potential design flaws. One of the system’s presumed advantages is the lack of a ‘kill switch’ which would allow Washington or its allies to deactivate Turkish air defences in an instant in the event of conflict.

     Russian S-400 long-range air defense missile systems
    © AP Photo / Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press
    Last year, a senior State Department official warned that Turkey’s S-400 deliveries would be “devastating, not only to the F-35 programme… It could potentially rupture Turkish interoperability with NATO,” because the S-400 is specifically “designed to shoot down an aircraft such as the F-35.”

    Turkey’s decision to go ahead with its S-400 purchase prompted Washington to cancel the delivery of about 100 F-35s to the country. In addition to being a major customer of the plane, Turkey contributed to its design and manufacturing, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on research and development and providing several key components for the aircraft.

    Russia and Turkey formally inked a $2.5 billion S-400 contract in late 2017 while Washington stalled on the sale of the latest generation of Patriot missile systems to the country, and Moscow assisting the sale via a credit deal. The country has since received S-400 36 fire units and more than 192 missiles, and has recently expressed an interest in buying more.

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