Trump assures Turkey on the sale of F-35s, Patriots
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has pointed out that ties between Ankara and Washington have entered a new atmosphere since the release of pastor Andrew Brunson mid-October.
High-level meetings between the two allies and frequent phone conversations at different governmental levels resulted in a rapid process of normalization and stabilization in ties. The Turkish government is confident that ties will be much better in 2019 although there are still contested issues that need to be addressed.
One of them is about Turkey’s growing, ambitious defense industry investments and purchases, which include projects that aim at augmenting aerial defense systems through the Russian-made S-400 anti-ballistic missile system.
This decision of Turkey has created three main problems: First, it led to questions over Turkey’s commitment to NATO and its interoperable defense systems. Second, the deployment of the S-400s can trigger United States’ sanctions on Turkey in line with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA. Third, it can block the sale of F-35 aircraft to Turkey, although the Turkish defense industry is one of the parts of the sophisticated production chain.
The U.S. has long been urging Turkey not to buy and deploy the S-400s on concerns that it would endanger the flight safety of F-35s. Turkey, however, has long been slamming the U.S. for not responding to Turkey’s demands for supplying U.S.-made air defense systems. The latest initiative for the purchase of the Patriot system by Turkey occurred in September 2017 which has received the official response after 15 months, last week on Dec. 19.
According to the U.S. Defense Industry Cooperation Agency, the State Department has approved a possible Foreign Military Sale to Turkey of 80 Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced Missiles (GEM-T) missiles, 60 PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) missiles and related equipment for an estimated cost of $3.5 billion. The agency said it delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale.
The approval of the U.S. Congress is required for the completion of the sale, but diplomatic sources told the Hürriyet Daily News that U.S. President Donald Trump had assured President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that there will be no congressional blockade on the Patriot sale to Turkey without explaining how he will be doing so.
He also highlighted that there will be no problem ahead in delivering the F-35 aircraft to Turkey, which is one of the parties of the production of the high-tech fighters. Turkey is planning to get 100 F-35s over the next decade in order to upgrade its air defense and to deploy the first two in late 2019. They will be operational in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Despite these high-level promises, Turkey will not give up purchasing the S-400s from Russia, diplomatic sources said. “Our chance to drop S-400s is zero,” sources stressed, recalling that the systems will be deployed later in 2019. But it’s also known that Turkey is trying to persuade the U.S. and other allies that it will take all the measures and will develop its own software so that the deployment of the S-400s will not cause security deficiencies.
All these depict a very complicated picture. Trump wants Turkey to spend more money on U.S. weaponry although the U.S. Congress is skeptical of ties with the Turkish government. Turkey, on the one hand, rules out canceling the S-400 purchase, but on the other hand, signals its readiness to spend an additional $3.5 billion on its air defense. These systems will never be interoperable and it will surely raise more questions on why Turkey is wasting its already limited budget on such a mess.