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U.S. threatens to cut Turkey from F-35 program over deal with Russia

By
Ed Adamczyk
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan threatened Turkey in a June 6 letter with elimination from the F-35 fighter plane's manufacturing chain, as well as denial of sales of the plane to the Turkish Air Force, if it persists in purchasing a Russian-made air defense system. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan threatened Turkey in a June 6 letter with elimination from the F-35 fighter plane's manufacturing chain, as well as denial of sales of the plane to the Turkish Air Force, if it persists in purchasing a Russian-made air defense system. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force

June 10 (UPI) -- Turkey's involvement in manufacturing the F-35 fighter plane will end if it insists on buying a Russian air defense system.

A June 6 letter from Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan outlines Turkey's elimination from the F-35 program. By early 2020, contracts with major Turkish defense contractors, including Turkish Aerospace Industries, Roketsan and Tusas Engine Industries, would end. The training of Turkish F-35 pilots at Luke AFB, Ariz., and of Turkish maintenance personnel at Eglin AFB, Fla., also would end, as would joint military exercises in Turkey.

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Use of the S-400 system could threaten and destabilize NATO, the U.S. Defense Department has said. Turkey is a NATO member.

Elimination from the program would threaten "F-35 industrial opportunities for Turkish companies [which] are expected to reach $12 billion," F-35 builder Lockheed Martin said.

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The United States is also threatening to withhold sales of F-35 planes to the Turkish military. At issue is Turkey's plan to purchase and install the S-400 air defense system, made in Russia.

"If Turkey procures the S-400, as we discussed during our call on May 28, 2019, our two countries must develop a plan to discontinue Turkey's participation in the F-35 program," Shanahan wrote in a letter addressed to Hulusi Akar, Turkey's defense minister. "While we seek to maintain our valued relationship, Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400."

The letter adds that additional penalties against Turkey could follow. Automatic sanctions, which Shanahan said has strong bipartisan commitment in Congress, could be imposed.

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