UPDATED 9:03 AM PT – Wednesday, July 17, 2019
The Trump administration will no longer sell the F-35 fighter jet to Turkey now that it has begun receiving shipments of an advanced missile defense system from Russia. During his nomination hearing Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary nominee Mark Esper described Turkey’s decision as “disappointing.”
The Russian-made missile defense system is not compatible with NATO and the Pentagon is concerned it could be used by Moscow to acquire critical knowledge of the F-35’s unique radar signature, which could make it easier to track.
“You can have either the S-400 or the F-35, you cannot have both,” stated Esper. “Acquisition of the S-400 fundamentally undermines the capabilities of the F-35 and our ability to retain that overmatch in the skies going forward.”
In the months leading up to last week’s deliveries, Washington had warned Turkey about the possibility of sanctions and expulsion from the F-35 program. Turkey responded by saying the equipment is necessary for securing the country’s southern border with Syria and Iran.
President Trump is now weighing in on the issue, saying “it’s not fair” that Lockheed Martin could lose out on billions of dollars because the manufacturer will not be allowed to follow through on the sale of more than a hundred of the fighter jets to Turkey. He pinned the blame on former President Obama for mishandling the situation in the first place.
“I’ve had a good relationship with President Erdogan…he wanted to buy our patriot missile, we wouldn’t sell it…and when he made a deal with another country, Russia, to buy this system that he didn’t even want…all of a sudden we say ‘okay, we’ll now sell you the patriot’…and because of the fact he bought a Russian missile, we’re not allowed to sell him billions of dollars worth of aircraft — it’s not a fair situation,” the president explained.
The State Department says they are working with President Trump to determine their next steps. Under current law, the U.S. may be forced to sanction Turkey now that the country has had “significant dealings with the Russian defense industry.”
“It’s a very tough situation that they’re in, and it’s a very tough situation that we’ve been placed in,” said President Trump. “With all of that being said, we’re working through it — we’ll see what happens.”