In a major break with a longtime ally, the Trump administration on Wednesday July 17, said Turkey is being kicked out of an American-led fighter aircraft program because it is buying a Russian air defense system that would aid Russian intelligence, according to AP.

According to AP, the decision has significant implications for the cohesion of NATO, whose central strategic purpose is to defend against Russian aggression. Now that NATO member Turkey has chosen to buy and deploy the Russian-made S-400 air defense, it will no longer be fully part of the alliance’s air defenses, which are at the core of NATO strategy.

The U.S. government’s concern is that the S-400 could be used to gather data on the capabilities of the F-35, and that the information could end up in Russian hands.

The White House in statement said, “Unfortunately, Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible. The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities.”

“Turkey has been a long-standing and trusted partner and NATO Ally for over 65 years, but accepting the S-400 undermines the commitments all NATO Allies made to each other to move away from Russian systems. This will have detrimental impacts on Turkish interoperability with the Alliance,” the statement said.

Military vehicles and equipment, parts of the S-400 air defense systems, are unloaded from a Russian transport aircraft, at Murted military airport in Ankara, Turkey, on July 12, 2019. The U.S. has strongly urged NATO member Turkey to pull back from the deal, warning the country that it will face economic sanctions. (Turkish Defense Ministry via AP, Pool)

According to the Washington Examiner, all Turkish pilots and maintainers training on the F-35 fighter are required to leave the United States by July 31.  

“All Turkish F-35 students and instructor pilots currently in the United States have firm plans to leave the country,” Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said. “Roughly 20 Turkish personnel at the Joint Program Office will no longer retain access to JPO spaces.”

Turkey planned to buy 100 F-35As. The first jet was delivered in June 2018 in a “delivery ceremony.” Although Turkey formally possessed the jets, the United States has said it has the power to keep the jets from moving to Turkish soil and the United States wants to keep all four existing Turkish jets from leaving the United States, according to DefenseNews.

Turkey makes more than 900 components for the stealth aircraft, which is sold internationally. Removing it as a supplier means the Pentagon is lining up alternative manufacturers for those parts. Lord said many of those alternatives will be American suppliers, and that the Pentagon is spending between $500 million and $600 million “to shift the supply chain,” according to AP.

Lord said this will cost Turkey’s economy around $9 billion over the life of the program. 

The break with Turkey over its purchase of a Russian weapon system is symptomatic of a deeper division between Ankara and its Western allies and partners, according to AP.

According to AP, Army Secretary Mark Esper, President Trump’s nominee to become secretary of defense, told his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday he is troubled by Turkey’s decision to defy the United States on the S-400, suggesting that it reveals a broader strategic problem.

“It is very disheartening to see how they have drifted over the past several years,” Esper said.

Lockheed Martin, the main contractor of the F-35 program said in statement, “This is a government-to-government matter, and as always, we are following official U.S. government guidance as it relates to delivery of the F-35 to Turkey and the export of goods from the Turkish supply chain.”

Include reporting from The Associate Press.

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