The Biden administration is continuing its predecessor’s policy of excluding Turkey from the international F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby indicated in late February.
Pentagon officials kicked Turkey, a NATO ally, out of the F-35 coalition because it bought the S-400 air defense system from Russia—a purchase the U.S. said puts American military information at risk. The Trump administration believed the advanced fighter jet used by troops around the world cannot coexist with a surface-to-air missile system designed to take out those same planes.
That argument remains, even as new leadership takes the reins.
“Our position has not changed,” Kirby said at a Pentagon press briefing. “The S-400 is incompatible with the F-35 and Turkey has been suspended from that program.”
The U.S. urges Ankara not to keep the S-400, which began arriving in 2019. Turkey should instead invest in the American-made Patriot air defense missile system, Kirby added.
“Turkey had multiple opportunities over the last decade to purchase the Patriot defense system from the United States and instead chose to purchase the S-400, which provides Russia revenue, access, and influence,” he said.
The U.S. Air Force bought the eight F-35As initially built for Turkey, but never delivered under an $861.7 million contract. Turkey had already ordered when it was ousted, and is being cut out of the F-35 supply chain over the course of the next two years as well.
In December, the U.S. sanctioned Turkey over its embrace of the S-400, in accordance with federal law, though the Trump administration held off on doing so for more than a year. The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act further mandated that the government impose at least five penalties on Turkey, as required by the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), within 30 days of its enactment on January 1.
President Joe Biden could end those sanctions this December if he certifies to Congress that Turkey and “any person acting on its behalf” no longer owns the S-400 or a newer version, that Russian nationals or its contractors are operating or maintaining air defense systems in Turkey, and that the U.S. has received “reliable assurances” from Ankara that it will not run afoul of CAATSA again, according to the 2021 defense policy law.
Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said last year it wanted the U.S. to handle the dispute “through dialogue and diplomacy,” not sanctions.
“Turkey will take the necessary steps against this decision, which will negatively affect our relations and will retaliate in a manner and timing it deems appropriate,” the ministry wrote. “Turkey will never refrain from taking the necessary measures to safeguard its national security.”
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