US punishes Turkey without its F-35 for buying Russian anti-aircraft missiles

5 min readJun 8, 2019


The umpteenth disagreement between Americans and Turks — that is, between the first and second NATO army — has ended with the former saying ‘enough’, and announcing measures of draft. decision to acquire the S-400 Russian anti-aircraft defense system, breaking with the allied tradition , threatens to lead to a major schism within the transatlantic organization just as Russia and China are progressing, in different arms industries, and Friction scenarios with both accumulate .

In a letter published this Saturday, signed by the acting secretary of defense of the USA, Patrick M. Shanahan, for his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, he is informed of his intention to remove Turkey from the development program of the F-35 fighter., the most advanced warplane until today, towards next July 31. Although the delivery of the S-400 is scheduled for two months, according to the manufacturer Rostec, Shanahan leaves the door open. “He still has time to change the course,” he tells Akar.

In other words: o S-400 or F-35 and the time to resolve the mess is exhausted . For now, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ellen M. Lord has announced to journalists, “Turkey will not participate in the annual round table of executive directors of the F-35, scheduled for mid-June,” and the planned updates of the documents of their management plan will be made without Turkish participation. “ In addition, if by the end of next month there is no agreement between the two countries, the US will send home all the Turkish pilots and instructors who are participating in the training program of the futuristic fighter plane. Besides, Turkey, which wanted to buy one hundred F-35 and paid for four units, will have to resign itself to losing them.

The severity of the conflict is even greater if one takes into account that, according to Reuters, Turkey participates in the production of 937 parts of the aircraft, mainly the landing gear and the central fuselage. Therefore, expelling the Turks would mean, for the US, having to look for alternative manufacturers. A not so easy task, reason why Washington foresees, in case of lack of understanding, that the exit of Turkey from the F-35 program would be staggered , in order not to compromise its development.

Ankara, for now, does not back down. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that the purchase of the S-400 was “beyond doubt.” In fact, Hulusi Akar announced the departure of a contingent of Turkish military, to Moscow, to become familiar with military ingenuity. A news received with boxes distempered in the White House, according to it is clear from the letter of this Saturday. Nor had it liked, in Turkey, that a Cypriot delegation — Cyprus, with whom Turkey has been in conflict for more than four decades, is not a member of NATO — is a reliever in the chain of command of the Alliance , at the beginning of last May in Belgium. A “protocol error” according to NATO; a taunt to Turkey, according to its officials.

And so, between disagreements and reprisals, the date is approaching when the most crucial military alliance of the last century could suffer one of the greatest setbacks in its history. The disputes between Turkey and the US are not new. In recent times they have maintained abysmal differences over the war in Syria, over US sanctions against Iran and about the arrest of US diplomatic personnel on Turkish soil. With the case of the S-400 this confrontation could take a particularly delicate chalice, which would imply the rest of the allies.

Why is the purchase of a Russian anti-aircraft defense worrying in the US? Ellen M. Lord was forceful: “The S-400 is incompatible with the F-35”. Pedro Baños, expert analyst in Defense and Security, adds: “The argument of the United States is that if Turkey had both the Russian S-400 system and the F-35, that would allow the Russians to know exactly how these aircraft work , how they can be vulnerable to being destroyed by their S-300 and S-400 systems . “

The S-400 is the most advanced anti-aircraft defense system in the Russian factory. Born in 2007, it can launch three different types of missiles, capable of destroying targets such as ballistic and cruise missiles. It reaches 27,000 meters in height and can manage 300 targets at the same time. Only China and India have bought them. The Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah reports that Ankara’s contract with Moscow includes the acquisition of means for Turkey to develop, in the future, a similar native defense system.

The S-400 is a direct competition of the Patriot system, manufactured by the United States and made a standard for NATO partners. Three countries, including Spain, have deployed in the south of Turkey batteries Patriot missiles, installed after a Turkish demand for security against the Syrian war. Pedro Baños believes that one of the additional reasons for the displeasure of the US, before the Turkish decision to acquire the Russian system, is, precisely, not to have been awarded the contract. “ Each new entry into NATO is an important source of income because of the need to reform all the defense material to standardize it,” he explains. “That the country with the second army in volume [of NATO] buy Russian material is setting a precedent “.

The Pentagon insisted on Saturday recalling that it has negotiated with Turkey since 2009 for the sale of Patriot batteries, in order to “satisfy its legitimate air defense needs”, and that it is “willing to immediately associate with Turkey” to study how to resolve the concerns of his ally before the purchase of the S-400. The Turkish authorities have argued, in recent times, that it was the US refusal to sell their Patriots that led them to seek offers from other suppliers , and that Russia was the one that offered the best deal.

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