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USA-Turkey F-35 crisis grows with S-400 delivery before July

Russia could deliver the S-400 anti-aircraft system to Turkey before July possibly forcing the USA to withhold delivery of Ankara’s F-35A stealth fighters.

The US and its allies are concerned that Turkey’s plan to buy the Almaz-Antey S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system could expose vulnerabilities of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II – weaknesses which could then be exploited by Russia. Ankara has dismissed those concerns, says it is going forward with the delivery of the S-400 and expects Washington to deliver its F-35 aircraft in due course.

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F-35A at ceremony for Turkey

Lockheed Martin

"It is definitely out of the question for us to step back on the issue of S-400s, it is a done deal," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a TV broadcast in Istanbul on 18 May, according to Turkish news outlet Daily Sabah. Erdoğan repeatedly has refused to give up the controversial missile system and now says that delivery of the battery is imminent.

"Our deal was to have the S-400s delivered to us by July; they will probably bring that forward," he says.

The S-400 radar system is considered one of the most advanced on the export market and has been advertised by Rosoboronexport as having an "anti-stealth range" of up to 81nm (150km). The system is deployed in strategic locations across Russia, such as Kaliningrad. China and India have also signed deals to acquire the system.

To entice Turkey into giving up the S-400, the USA has instead offered Raytheon’s Patriot missile system. The Patriot missiles system is seen as less advanced and Turkey has refused the trade, however.

In light of Ankara’s march toward the S-400, the US Department of Defense (DoD) halted delivery of F-35 parts and manuals to Turkey in April. This despite Lockheed Martin officially presenting the first F-35A fighters to Turkey in a June 2018 rollout ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas. Turkey is not expected to receive the stealth fighter in its own airspace until 2020.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has said he is optimistic that Turkey will give up the S-400 and receive the F-35, but also recently has said that the USA is making moves to replace the country’s participation in the programme. In total, ten different Turkish firms make parts for every F-35 manufactured.

Turkey remains publicly confident that the USA will not remove it from the F-35 programme.

"[The USA is] passing the ball around in the midfield now, showing some reluctance. But sooner or later, we will receive the F-35s,” Erdoğan says. “The US not delivering them is not an option."

Further raising the stakes, Turkey will also help Russia produce its next generation of anti-aircraft systems, Erdoğan says.

"After the S-400s, the S-500s are also considered, and there will be coproduction of S-500s as well," he says.

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