A top US general said on Tuesday that he would recommend that the United States withhold delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey if Ankara goes through with the purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system.
“My best military advice would be that we don’t then follow through with the F-35, flying it or working with an ally that’s working with Russian systems, particularly air defense systems,” said Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of US European Command, during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, according to The Hill.
His testimony comes amid plans by Turkey, a NATO ally, to buy Russia’s S-400 long-range air defense system. The United States has been trying to convince the nation to buy a Patriot system instead.
Scaparrotti, who also serves as the supreme allied commander of NATO, confirmed Tuesday that Trump administration officials are in Turkey working on the issue.
“We, the United States, have a team there today talking to the Turks, and I’m sure that a very candid conversation about the S-400 and the potential consequences are a part of that conversation,” he was quoted as having said.
The United States recently approved the sale of $3.5 billion in missiles to Turkey in a move seen as a counter move to Turkey’s purchase of S-400 anti-ballistic missile defense systems from Russia, which has long been an issue of contention between Turkey.
Military experts are concerned that the deployment of S-400s would put the security of allied weapon systems, particularly F-35 aircraft and radar facilities, in danger.
In January, Turkey rejected a US offer to cancel its purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia. This came after a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made clear that Turkey’s purchase of US missiles will not affect its deal to acquire rival S-400 missiles from Russia.
Last year’s defense policy bill blocked delivery of the F-35s until the Pentagon delivered Congress a report on US-Turkish relations, a requirement the Pentagon fulfilled earlier this year. Turkey is supposed to eventually get 116 of the fighter jets.
One issue with taking Ankara out of the F-35 program, though, is that parts of the jet are built in Turkey. Scaparrotti said Tuesday that issue is still being worked through.
“But for them, I would just underscore the fact that this is a huge decision for Turkey, and we’ve continuously — I’ve talked to them personally, as all of our leadership has,” he continued. “I would hope that they would reconsider this one decision on S-400. One system, but potentially forfeit many of the other systems and one of the most important systems we could provide them.”