Blow to Erdogan as US boots Turkey out of F-35 strike fighter program

A 3D rendering of an F-35 advanced military aircraft locking on target and firing missile. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 19 July 2020

Blow to Erdogan as US boots Turkey out of F-35 strike fighter program

  • Companies in Ankara’s defense industry lose access to lucrative technology know-how
  • The move had been widely expected since Turkey took delivery last year of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system

ANKARA: The removal of Turkey from the list of “global participants” on the US F-35 joint strike fighter program’s official website carries political significance in terms of showing the Pentagon’s determination to push its NATO ally to make a final decision about its controversial purchase of a Russian air defense system.

Turkey’s contribution to the F-35 fighter jets’ supply chain was suspended following its receipt of parts of the S-400 surface-to-air defense system last July.

But the system has not yet been made operational, although Turkey has also refused to give up the S-400 completely. It even tested its radar system in Ankara against some of its air force’s US-made F-16 fighter jets last November.

However, the activation of the S-400 missile system that was scheduled for April is still delayed. Turkey has also been banned by the US from ordering F-35s for its air force.

The only condition for Ankara to become a contributor again and feature in the F-35 list is to move the system outside the country because F-35s cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence gathering platform that might detect their stealth capabilities and harm the long-term security of the alliance by spying on the jets.

Turkey’s industrial engagement in the F-35 program brought a significant economic boost to the country, with 10 contributing companies supplying more than 900 parts worth about $12 billion.

Lockheed Martin, as the prime contractor on the F-35 program, and the US government had to find new suppliers for the parts that were previously manufactured by Turkish companies.

But Turkey was cited until recently as one of the nine principal contributors on the program’s official website along with the US, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway and the UK.

A retired senior official from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry believed the country would delay the operation of the S-400, worth $2.5 billion, for a lengthy period due to economic and regional challenges.

“Under deepening conditions of economic recession, Ankara will not risk facing potential US sanctions in case it operationalizes the controversial Russian system,” the official told Arab News. “Meanwhile, Turkish officials still have a slight hope to get credit opportunities from the US for overcoming its cash problems. It may force Ankara to think twice about not being eligible for sanctions.”

Can Kasapoglu, a defense analyst from the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, said the country’s exclusion from the F-35 program was a great loss for the Turkish defense ecosystem.

“Many aerospace firms were involved in the project with lucrative technology know-how gains and co-production opportunities,” he told Arab News. “All these achievements were perfectly in league with Turkey's defense modernization priorities.”

US senators are divided over whether they should downplay the S-400 issue, or further penalize Turkey over its Russia-inclined security reinforcement choices.

In a bid to alleviate the impasse between the two countries and get the Russian system out of Turkey, a US lawmaker proposed last week that the US buy Turkey’s S-400 through an amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

This scenario, which was applied in 1997 by purchasing Moldova’s Russian-made Fulcrum fighter jets to keep them away from Iran, enables Ankara to take part in the F-35 program, but will at the same time antagonize Russia and harm the regional balance in Syria and Libya.

To alleviate Russian concerns about such a scenario, Turkey has pledged not to disclose any sensitive information it has related to the S-400 air defence system, as Defence Industries head Ismail Demir announced on Friday during a panel discussion.

However US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Jim Risch, introduced another harsher amendment that would mandate President Donald Trump’s administration to impose measures from the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) on Turkey within 30 days of the NDAA adoption because, under CAATSA, any nation procuring defense items from Russia should be subject to sanctions.

“The removal of Turkey from the list of global participants under the US’ F-35 joint strike fighter program’s official website is, as we say in Turkish, announcing what is already known, which is that Turkey is no longer part of the F-35 program,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Arab News.

He said that the move did not, however, prevent Turkey’s readmission to the program if and when the S-400 problem was resolved.


Fresh allegations about mistreatment of Kurds in Turkey

Updated 29 September 2020

Fresh allegations about mistreatment of Kurds in Turkey

  • Opposition party submits parliamentary question on torture after villagers allegedly thrown from military helicopter

ANKARA: The mistreatment of Kurds in Turkey is under the spotlight again following allegations of torture and food poisoning.

Three politicians from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) who were recently arrested said they were hospitalized with food poisoning during their detention, while Amnesty International has demanded the government investigate allegations that two Kurds were thrown out of a military helicopter.

The government accuses the HDP of ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and thousands of its members have been prosecuted for the same reason, including its leaders. The HDP denies such links. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US.

The HDP politicians, including Ayhan Bilgen who is mayor of Van province, fell ill after eating food served at Ankara police headquarters.

Bilgen was not immediately taken to hospital, nor was he allowed to talk to his legal team until after HDP lawmakers had talked with government officials to have him hospitalized.

The trio are under arrest as part of a probe into violent protests that took place in Kobane in 2014. Their detention period was extended on Monday by another four days.

Amnesty International has urged the government to investigate allegations that two Kurds, aged 55 and 50, were thrown from a military helicopter in Van. The rights group voiced its concerns about the “allegations of torture and mistreatment” which it said were unacceptable under international human rights law and standards that Turkey was obliged to comply with.

The men alleged to have been thrown out of a military helicopter were arrested on Sept. 11 as part of an operation against the PKK. Both were hospitalized and had signs of heavy beatings on their bodies.

One of the men was shown to the media with a bloodied face. He is experiencing memory loss. The other man’s condition remains critical. He is suffering from brain trauma, broken ribs, a punctured lung, and has been in intensive care for more than two weeks.

Relatives of the villagers have demanded justice and the uncovering of the truth through a proper investigation.

Amnesty International wants Turkey to investigate the case impartially, and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has submitted a parliamentary question about the allegations of torture.

HDP lawmaker Ali Kenanoglu said his party would follow up the mistreatment allegations at a domestic and international level.

“Kurds have become the scapegoat of the current regime because they are considered as the easiest target that doesn’t have any strong social support behind it,” he told Arab News. “Currently all policies involving war and violence are conducted by targeting Kurds. The mistreatment regarding this segment of society has not received strong backing so far, which opens more room for such efforts.”

Once the Kurdish lawmakers were arrested they were automatically under state protection, he said. “However, state impunity still prevails when it comes to the implementation of the rights of Kurdish community.”

On Monday, HDP deputies and officials were outside the parliament building to protest against the detention of their colleagues, who are accused of inciting violence in Kobane.

Amnesty International’s Turkey campaigner, Milena Buyum, called for a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the ill-treatment of Kurdish villagers.

“Those found to be responsible should be brought to justice in a fair trial,” she told Arab News. “Turkey is bound by the UN Convention Against Torture and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, both of which it is a party to. The Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe is tasked with monitoring places of detention in member states and can ask questions regarding the cases of alleged torture and other ill-treatment. As Amnesty International, we will continue monitoring the developments in this shocking case.”

Buyum said that people in detention must be allowed access to their lawyers once they were deprived of their liberty.

“The delay in speaking to the lawyers is concerning. The HDP representatives have been able to consult their legal representatives after four days. They still don't know the substance of the allegations they face as they have not yet been questioned.”

The rights group said that there was increased concern about detention conditions because of the pandemic, and that authorities should step up their efforts to ensure the health and safety of those in custody.

Separately, a Kurdish singer said on Monday that he had been warned by security and intelligence officials against singing in his mother tongue and to stay away from HDP events.

“You will be in trouble if you sing in Kurdish again,” Cesim Basboga was reportedly told. "You’ve been provoking people with songs.”

Basboga will file a complaint.