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.


‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

Updated 07 August 2020

‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

  • The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion
  • The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest

BEIRUT: Beirut residents began trying to rebuild their shattered lives on Friday after the biggest blast in the Lebanese capital’s history tore into the city, killing at least 154 and leaving the heavily indebted nation with another huge reconstruction bill.
The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion smashed a swathe of the city and sent shockwaves around the region.
Security forces fired teargas at a furious crowd late on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the government and a political elite, who have presided over a nation that was facing economic collapse even before the deadly port blast injured 5,000 people.
The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life in Beirut, as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.
“There is no way we can rebuild this house. Where is the state?” Tony Abdou, an unemployed 60-year-old, sitting in the family home in Gemmayze, a district that lies a few hundred meters from the port warehouses where highly explosive material was stored for years, a ticking time bomb next to a densely populated area.
As Abdou spoke, a domestic water boiler fell through the ceiling of his cracked home, while volunteers from the neighborhood turned out on the street to sweep up debris.
“Do we actually have a government here?” said taxi driver Nassim Abiaad, 66, whose cab was crushed by falling building wreckage just as he was about to get into the vehicle.
“There is no way to make money anymore,” he said.
The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest. State news agency NNA said 16 people were taken into custody. But for many Lebanese, the explosion was symptomatic of the years of neglect by the authorities while state corruption thrived.
Shockwaves
Officials have said the blast, whose seismic impact was recorded hundreds of miles (kilometers) away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion — a bill the country cannot pay when it has already defaulted on its mountain of national debt, exceeding 150% of economic output, and talks about a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund have stalled.
Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and pulled down ceilings, have been overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Many were struggling to find enough foreign exchange to buy supplies before the explosion.
In the port area, rescue teams set up arc lights to work through the night in a dash to find those still missing, as families waited tensely, slowly losing hope of ever seeing loved ones again. Some victims were hurled into the sea because of the explosive force.
The weeping mother of one of the missing called a prime time TV program on Thursday night to plead with the authorities to find her son, Joe. He was found — dead — hours later.
Lebanese Red Cross Secretary General George Kettaneh told local radio VDL that three more bodies had been found in the search, while the health minister said on Friday the death toll had climbed to 154. Dozens are still unaccounted for.
Charbel Abreeni, who trained port employees, showed Reuters pictures on his phone of killed colleagues. He was sitting in a church where the head from the statue of the Virgin Mary had been blown off.
“I know 30 port employees who died, two of them are my close friends and a third is missing,” said the 62-year-old, whose home was wrecked in the blast. His shin was bandaged.
“I have nowhere to go except my wife’s family,” he said. “How can you survive here, the economy is zero?“
Offers of immediate medical and food aid have poured in from Arab states, Western nations and beyond. But none, so far, address the bigger challenges facing a bankrupt nation.
French President Emmanuel Macron came to the city on Thursday with a cargo from France. He promised to explain some “home truths” to the government, telling them they needed to root out corruption and deliver economic reforms.
He was greeted on the street by many Lebanese who asked for help in ensuring “regime” change, so a new set of politicians could rebuild Beirut and set the nation on a new course.
Beirut still bore scars from heavy shelling in the 1975-1990 civil war before the blast. After the explosion, chunks of the city once again look like a war zone.