Five days after Turkey defied NATO and the U.S. by accepting the first components of an advanced Russian missile defense system, the White House says the deal means Turkey won’t be able to buy 100 new F-35 fighter jets, as it had planned.
“Unfortunately, Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, in a statement released Wednesday.
“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” Grisham said.
Grisham said the U.S. has tried to work out a solution to help Turkey “meet its legitimate air defense needs,” adding that on multiple occasions, the Trump administration has offered “to move Turkey to the front of the line to receive the U.S. PATRIOT air defense system” rather than the Russian military’s missile system.
The U.S. move follows months of threats to kick Turkey out of the F-35 joint strike fighter program if Turkey acquires the Russian system — an impasse among allies that was made even more awkward because Turkish aviation companies manufacture some of the jet’s components.
U.S. military officials have said the arrangement could allow Russia to learn secrets about the F-35 — because the new NATO stealth fighter is exactly the kind of quarry the S-400 is designed to hunt.
Last Friday, a NATO official told NPR that the alliance is “concerned” about Russian missiles being deployed by a longtime NATO ally.
“It’s not a fair situation,” President Trump said on Tuesday, depicting the standoff as the product of the Obama administration’s refusal to sell Turkey Patriot missiles.
“Turkey tried very hard to buy them, and they wouldn’t sell them, and this went on for a long period of time,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting, according to a White House transcript.
As for why Turkey says it decided to buy Russia’s missiles, Ibrahim Kalin, a senior adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told NPR in April:
“The only Patriot missile batteries we have right now are the ones owned and lent to us by Spain and Italy. So that all has created a sense of consternation in Ankara as to why our allies are withdrawing their Patriot missile systems when we need them the most. And that all has led to Turkey looking for alternatives.”
The U.S. deployed Patriot missiles in southeastern Turkey in 2013, after Turkey’s leaders asked NATO to help prevent a potential missile attack from neighboring Syria during that country’s civil war. The U.S. and other allies began withdrawing those systems in the fall of 2015, saying the missile threat had diminished.