Erdogan Warns F-35 Project Would Collapse Without Turkey

The United States and NATO allies wary that the Russian S-400 missile defence systems that Turkey plans to buy will learn how to spot and track the stealth F-35

Turkish Major General Reha Ufuk Er takes delivery of its first F-35 fighter jet with a ceremony at the Lockheed Martin in Texas, June 21, 2018
Atilgan Ozdil / Anadolu Agency /

ANKARA - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that an F-35 fighter jet project without Turkey was bound to collapse, and added that Ankara was being treated unfairly over the project.

Turkey plans to buy Russian S-400 missile defence systems, straining ties with the United States, which has said they would compromise the security of the Lockheed Martin F-35 jets. Ankara is both a prospective buyer of F-35s and also a partner in their production.

Speaking at a defence industry fair, Erdogan said those trying to exclude Turkey from the F-35 project had not thought it through and added that Ankara was rapidly taking steps to develop its own air defence systems.

The United States has halted delivery of equipment related to the stealthy F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey, marking the first concrete U.S. step to block delivery of the jet to the NATO ally in light of Ankara's planned purchase of the Russian missile defense system.

Erdogan has refused to back down from Ankara's planned purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system. Turkey has said it will take delivery of the S-400s in July.

The disagreement over the F-35 is the latest of a series of diplomatic disputes between the United States and Turkey including Turkish demands that the United States extradite Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria, and sanctions on Iran.

Washington was exploring whether it could remove Turkey from production of the F-35. Turkey makes parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays. Sources familiar with the F-35's intricate worldwide production process and U.S. thinking on the issue said Turkey's role can be replaced.

The United States and other NATO allies that own F-35s fear the radar on the Russian S-400 missile system will learn how to spot and track the jet, making it less able to evade Russian weapons in the future.

In an attempt to persuade Turkey to drop its plans to buy the S-400, the United States offered the pricier American-made Patriot anti-missile system in a discounted deal that expired at the end of March. Turkey has shown interest in the Patriot system, but not at the expense of abandoning the S-400.