The bill introduced by lawmakers, including Democratic senator Jeanne Shaheen and Republican James Lankford, will add to growing US pressure on Turkey to turn away from Russia’s S-400 system.
The United States and other NATO allies who own F-35 fighter jets fear the radar on the Russian S-400 missile system will learn how to spot and track the F-35, making it less able to evade Russian weapons in the future, Press TV reported.
Shaheen, a member of the Senate’s foreign relations and armed services committees, says Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system would give Moscow access to the US aircraft and technology in a NATO country, Turkey, and that “is a serious national and global security risk”.
“This bill makes it clear that NATO’s integrity, interoperability and security is a top foreign policy concern across all branches of the US government,” she said, referring to the bipartisan bill introduced ahead of a NATO ministerial meeting slated for next week in Washington.
In a bid to prevent the S-400 system being operated on the NATO soil, the US has offered Turkey the more expensive Patriot anti-missile system at a discount that expires at the end of March, but on condition that Ankara drop its plans to buy the S-400.
So far Ankara has not shown any willingness to reverse the S-400 purchase.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month his country will not go back on its agreement to buy S-400 systems from Russia, despite pressures from the United States.
"It's done," Erdogan said in an interview with broadcaster Kanal 24 on March 6, stressing that "there can never be a turning back. This would not be ethical, it would be immoral. Nobody should ask us to lick up what we spat."
F-35 program without Turkish-made components
The US has threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey, to block it from receiving deliveries of the new F-35 stealth fighter jet program, and to remove Turkish-made components from the F-35 supply chain, which include parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays.
Turkey argues that it would be too complicated to exclude the components made by the country from the F-35 fighter jet program, but US sources were quoted by Reuters as saying Washington can still proceed with the trillion-dollar F-35 fighter jet program without Turkish components.
Two US sources familiar with the F-35’s intricate worldwide production process and US thinking on the issue say Turkey can be replaced.
“There are about 800 parts that Turkey makes for the F-35, and of them, very few are sole source,” said a person with direct knowledge of the US position, explaining that single source parts from Turkey can be replaced by contractors who had previously bid to make them.
“Turkey is not too big to fail,” the person said.
Ankara has long said it plays a key role in the F-35 program and that excluding it would not be easy. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in December that the US cannot unilaterally cancel Turkey’s participation.
But several US sources said the impact would not be drastic. Replacing or finding substitutes for the Turkish components would slow production for a three-month period at the Lockheed Martin facility that builds the jets, one of the sources said.
Russia and Turkey finalized an agreement on the delivery of Russian S-400 missile defense systems in December 2017. Turkey is expected to take delivery of the systems between later this year and early next year. The US has been selling its own Patriot missile systems to regional countries to push back against Russia’s expanding influence among them.
US-Turkey ties going from bad to worse
Excluding Turkey from the F-35 program, in which it has been a long-time partner, would be a massive blow to already strained ties between Washington and Ankara.
In addition to the missile defense row, the two sides strongly disagree on the issue of Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, as well.
Elliott Abrams, the US president’s special envoy to the Latin American nation, recently warned that the Erdogan government is “strongly supporting Maduro” and that US officials had “not had the cooperation from Turkey that we want.”
The Turkish president has urged his Venezuelan counterpart to “stand up tall” and has described the US efforts to force him from power as a “coup attempt.”
Erdogan’s stance on Venezuela has emerged as a new flashpoint in the already strained relationship between Ankara and Washington, with Turkey’s imports of Venezuelan gold a particular source of concern.
US officials have claimed that the country imported 20 tons of the precious metal from the South American nation last year, worth almost $1 billion.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Abrams said that Washington had asked Ankara to halt that process.
Whether it’s gold or anything else of value, we inquire and we ask the government in question to stop it,” he said. “We have not had the cooperation from Turkey that we want. Turkey is undermining its own position, not only in Venezuela but all of Latin America . . . s a cost for Turkey.”