Turkey to Receive First Pair of F-35 Jets Despite Senate Opposition
Turkey will get the first pair of F-35 fighter jets this week, Pentagon said on Wednesday, amid bipartisan opposition of the U.S. Congress.
“Lockheed Martin will hold a rollout ceremony for Turkey this Thursday in Fort Worth, and the two jets will follow-on to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona at a later date,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said.
“Turkish F-3 pilots and maintainers have arrived at Luke Air Force Base and will begin flight academics soon,” CNN quoted him as saying.
The announcement came a day after the U.S. Senate approved a bill that could block the delivery of the jets to Turkey until Pentagon devises a plan to remove Ankara from the joint program.
It caused an uproar in Ankara, with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim slamming the decision.
“Turkey is not without alternatives,” Yildirim said.
The move in both chambers of the U.S. Congress casts a doubt on the final delivery of F-35s. Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over a number of unresolved thorny issues.
The extradition of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, the U.S. alignment with the Syrian Kurdish militia which Ankara deems as a terrorist outfit, Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 system and the ongoing imprisonment of a number of U.S. citizens, including Pastor Andrew Brunson, remain major sources of friction.
“The Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 targets Turkey, a NATO member since 1952 and a partner on the F-35 program since 2002, from acquiring the 100 F-35s the country was scheduled to purchase from the U.S.,” Oya Dursun-Ozkanca, Associate Professor of Political Science at Elizabethtown College, told Globe Post Turkey.
She noted that the S-400 purchase and the imprisonment of the U.S. citizens for political leverage are among the reasons behind the bill.
“It is important to note that the Senate and the House bills need to be reconciled before seeking the signature of the U.S. President,” she added, elaborating on the technical details of the final procedure before the bill goes into full effect. According to latest reports, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is against the efforts to block Turkey’s receipt of F-35s, she said in an email before Pentagon’s Wednesday announcement.
“I think that the latest announcement with regards to Turkey and the U.S. moving on with the transfer of the first pair of F-35s is not that surprising given that the U.S. administration officials have been indicating their willingness to do so,” she said.
The expert previously emphasized that while the concerns listed in the Senate bill are legitimate, any removal of Turkey from the F-35 program would run the risk of pushing Ankara more towards Russia and away from the West.
The nature of the U.S.-Turkey relations has been showing signs of fluctuating in the aftermath of the failed 2016 coup. The purge of 400 officers representing Turkey at NATO sent shudders in Washington and Brussels and created a breakdown in mutual trust after Ankara declared the U.S. administration the main sponsor of the coup plotters.
The post-coup crackdown and subsequent sweeping purge in civil service, academia and the Turkish military steers Turkey’s slow pivot away from the Western values and democracy, bringing Ankara closer to the authoritarian model of governance represented by Russia and Iran.
Ankara’s disregard of the warnings from its Western allies in its pursuit to acquire Russian missile system caused grousing and a litany of complaints.
“From the U.S. perspective, it jeopardizes the NATO alliance, especially at such a critical time, when the alliance needs to adopt a unified front against the threats posed by the Russian Federation,” Ozkanca said.