US senators table bill to stop transfer of F-35 jets to Turkey unless it ditches S-400 deal
The bill on limiting the transfer of F-35 stealth fighter jets to Turkey was introduced by Republican Senator James Lankford, and co-sponsored by Republican Thom Tillis and Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Chris Van Hollen on Thursday.
The draft of the bill states that "no funds may be obligated or expended" to transfer the batch of F-35 aircraft to Turkey or intellectual property and technical data related to its operation and maintenance until a written certification is provided to Congress that Turkey "does not plan or intend" to go ahead with the delivery of the cutting-edge Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles.
The lawmakers claim that the purchase of the Russian-made weapons by Turkey would "endanger the integrity" of NATO and "result in a significant impact to defense cooperation" between Washington and Ankara. The military cooperation between Turkey and Russia deals a blow to the US' own security, Shaheen argued.
"The prospect of Russia having access to US aircraft and technology in a NATO country, Turkey, is a serious national and global security risk," she said.
The Pentagon has been piling pressure on Ankara in an attempt to dissuade it from buying Russia's famed S-400 Triumpf air-defense systems, threatening it with sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The newly introduced bill demands that Trump "faithfully execute" the provisions of the act.
So far, scare tactics used by Washington to browbeat Turkey into scrapping the S-400 deal have fallen flat. Ankara has repeatedly said that buying the Russian systems is a done deal, aimed at diversifying its arsenal and is unrelated to either US security or NATO.
In its most recent bid to discourage Ankara from buying the Russian-made complexes, the Pentagon threatened to deprive it of both F-35s and the Raytheon-built Patriot missile system. Turkey has brushed off US demands for NATO 'interoperability,' with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying earlier this month that Washington is blackmailing Ankara because it does not want it to become an independent regional player.
The $2.5 billion deal with Russia will see the first of four S-400 batteries delivered to Turkey in July this year. Turkey has been a vital partner in the F-35 program, which itself has been plagued by cost overruns, delays and performance issues while being the US military's most expensive project to date. Turkey has been making parts of fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays for the jets and has invested some $1.25 billion in the Pentagon's largest weapons program throughout its course. The first F-35 jet was delivered to Turkey in a ceremony in Texas in June, and two more jets were scheduled to be delivered by the end of this month.