The United States should not sell Turkey the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter if Ankara buys anti-aircraft missiles from Russia, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO’s supreme allied commander, said Tuesday.
A team of U.S. officials is in Turkey today, meeting with Turkish officials about their planned purchase of the S-400, one of the world’s most effective anti-aircraft systems.
“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, with … what I would say is probably one of our most advanced technological capabilities,” Scaparrotti, who also leads U.S. European Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “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 that could provide them.”
Among the worries is that Turkish S-400s could send Moscow information that would help Russia defeat or even shoot down the F-35.
Lawmakers share those worries. A clause of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act temporarily blocked F-35 transfers to Turkey because of the S-400 plan and Ankara’s detention of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, later freed. The law suspended all F-35 transfers to the NATO ally until until the Pentagon sent lawmakers a report about what it would take to remove Ankara from the F-35 program—both buying jets and being part of the plane’s supply chain. (In December, the Trump administration approved a $3.5 billion sale of Patriot interceptors to Turkey.)
Turkey already owns two of the jets, but they are located at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where they’re part of the international pool of F-35s used to train U.S. and foreign — including Turkish — pilots. The balance of Ankara’s order of 100 F-35 are to begin delivery no earlier than July, Military.com reported in September.
Turkish companies make some of the plane’s critical parts, including the fuselage, landing gear, and other components.
The S-400 purchase is “raising doubts about whether or not we can legitimately manufacture and distribute parts in the supply chain for the production of Joint Strike Fighters,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said at the hearing.
“I would encourage the Turkish government and the leadership to recognize that they should not have this one decision put all the other great things that we’re doing, that we will do in the future, in the balance and Congress potentially in a position where we have to act,” Tillis said.
More Ships, Troops Needed
Scaparrotti called for more U.S. military assets to be shifted to Europe in response to “the modernization and the growth of the…Russian fleets in Europe.”
The Pentagon has bulked up its forces in Europe since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, increases been largely funded through the European Reassurance and European Deterrence initiatives.
“We’ve added forces and capabilities. We’ve improved the readiness,” Scaparrotti said. “But I would tell you…I’m not comfortable yet with the deterrent posture that we have in Europe in support of the National Defense Strategy.”
The National Defense Strategy warns of “great power competition” with Russia and China in the coming decades.
“I have shortfalls in our land component and the depth of forces there…and in our maritime component as well,” Scaparrotti said.
Scaparrotti has asked Pentagon “for two more destroyers” in European Command, and wants to see more carrier strike groups and amphibious strike groups rotating through the region “at a little better pace than I’ve seen in the three years that I’ve been in command,” he said.
He also said the U.S. needs more anti-submarine warfare assets: “If we want to remain dominant in the maritime domain—in particularly undersea, which we are today—we’ve got to continue to modernize and I think we need to build our capacity.”
The general, like many combatant commanders, also said he needs more intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets “given that increasing and growing threat of Russia.”
At several points during the hearing, the general refused to provide details, deferring comments to a closed-door hearing with lawmakers this afternoon.
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