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

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

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.


Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia
Updated 44 min 51 sec ago

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia
  • Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic
  • The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14

TUNIS: Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Tunisian cities on Saturday to protest police repression, corruption and poverty, following several nights of unrest marked by clashes and arrests.
Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled the economy and threatened to overwhelm hospitals.
Over 6,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Tunisia, with a record 103 deaths reported on Thursday.
The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14.
But protesters took to the streets in several parts of the country, including the capital Tunis and the marginalized interior region of Gafsa, to demand the release of hundreds of young people detained during several nights of unrest since January 14.
“Neither police nor Islamists, the people want revolution,” chanted demonstrators in a crowd of several hundred in Tunis, where one person was wounded in brief clashes amid a heavy police presence.
Protests were also held in the coastal city of Sfax on Friday.
Much of the unrest has been in working class neighborhoods, where anger is boiling over soaring unemployment and a political class accused of having failed to deliver good governance, a decade after the 2011 revolution that toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Economic misery exacerbated by novel coronavirus restrictions in the tourism-reliant nation have pushed growing numbers of Tunisians to try to leave the country.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said Omar Jawadi, 33, a hotel sales manager, who has been paid only half his salary for months.
“The politicians are corrupt, we want to change the government and the system.”
The police have said more than 700 people were arrested over several nights of unrest earlier this week that saw young people hurl rocks and petrol bombs at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.
Human rights groups on Thursday said at least 1,000 people had been detained.
“Youth live from day to day, we no longer have hope, neither to work nor to study — and they call us troublemakers!” said call center worker Amine, who has a degree in aerospace engineering.
“We must listen to young people, not send police in by the thousands. The whole system is corrupt, a few families and their supporters control Tunisia’s wealth.”
Tunisia last week marked one decade since Ben Ali fled the country amid mass protests, ending 23 years in power.
Tunisia’s political leadership is divided, with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi waiting for parliament to confirm a major cabinet reshuffle announced last Saturday.