News Analysis |
Pentagon has proceeded with the agreement to provide Turkey with state-of-the-art, 5th generation stealth F-35 fighter jets, bypassing Congressional approval. The F-35A Lighting II jets were unveiled at Fort Worth, Texas, Lockheed Martin Assembling facility, painted in the colors of the Turkish flag. The ceremony was attended by as many, as a thousand people, including Turkish army personnel, diplomats, and officials. But surprisingly, U.S congressmen were absent from the scene in which Turkish musicians and dancers put up quite a show.
The Senate Committee for the National Defense Authorization Act opposed the deal as Turkey is in negotiations with Russia for the purchase of an anti-ballistic missile defense system, S-400. The committee’s inimical attitude against the transfer of such sophisticated technology may be attributed to Turkey’s detention of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor. The American Pastor, arrested following the 2016 Turkish coup d’état attempt stands charged for “support of terrorist organizations” and “espionage”.
The attempted coup had resulted in arrests of tens of thousands of Turkish military personnel, civil servants, educators, academics, dissidents, and journalists. Brunson, an evangelical pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, a small Protestant church with about 25 congregants, was amongst the detained and may face life in prison. The U.S. Senate approved a $716 billion defense spending bill, 85-10 on Monday, backing President Donald Trump’s call for a bigger, stronger military.
Washington’s policies towards Ankara have pushed latter to look for other options to meet its military needs. As a consequence, Turkey has made efforts to cultivate military and economic relationship with the Russians.
The bill includes an amendment prohibiting sale of the jets to Turkey. The Senate’s decision to pass a bill prohibiting the sale of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jets to Turkey is unfortunate and against the spirit of strategic partnership, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday. Prime Minister Yildirim continued that if the United States of America continued with the discourse, then Turkey will be compelled to look for other options and other markets.
Given the capabilities of U.S 5th generation military hardware, the best substitute would be the Russian SU-35, according to experts. The bill is currently in the embryonic stage, the two houses still need to work out their differences before it lands on the President’s desk for assent. Never the less, Pentagon has full filled the agreement owing to Turkish membership of the 5th Generation Fighter Jet Program initiated in 1999.
Read more: Turkey & USA relations take another hit
Other nations joining the United States and Turkey as partners in the F-35 program include the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Denmark, and Norway. Two F-35 jets will be dispatched to the U.S Airforce base in Arizona where Turkish fighter pilots and technicians are waiting to get their hands on very advanced technological machinery. They will be trained for months by U.S instructors before taking the jets back to Turkey. Lockheed Martin has acknowledged in a statement, that Turkey has played a vital role in the manufacturing and assembling of these aircrafts.
Several Turkish contractors including the Turkish Aerospace Industries Inc., continue to play crucial role in assembling parts for the F-35, said Doug Wilhelm, Lockheed vice president for the F-35 program. About 30 percent of center fuselages installed on F-35’s are built in Turkey, he said. Also, Turkish contractors contribute to building components of the landing gear, forward fuselage, the electronics used by the pilot and some of the aircraft’s composite skin, he said. Plans call for Lockheed Martin to build at least two more planes for Turkey in the long-term. Turkey wishes to buy close to a 100 of these stealth fighter jets.
The Senate Committee for the National Defense Authorization Act opposed the deal as Turkey is in negotiations with Russia for the purchase of an anti-ballistic missile defense system, S-400.
Washington’s policies towards Ankara have pushed latter to look for other options to meet its military needs. As a consequence, Turkey has made efforts to cultivate military and economic relationship with the Russians. US policies ignoring Turkish interests may result in gradual separation between the two strategic NATO Partners. The Pentagon appears cautious, wanting to keep Turkey close.
The transferring of F-35 jets might prove to breathe new air into the strategic partnership of the two countries. “We are not just purchasing weapons from the United States, or selling weapons to the United States. We are partners to the United States,” Serdar Demirel, Turkey deputy undersecretary for defense industries said at the ceremony. “We hope our partnership will continue.”