Wednesday, July 31, 2019

US expelled Turkey from F-35 fighter jet program

S-400 Missile Systems
Expulsion of Turkey from F-35 jet program is a major crisis faced by NATO in this century, this also marks the lowest point in Washington-Ankara relations. If expulsion is going through and US imposes sanctions under CAATSA then relations between two counties are going to worse and not reversible in foreseeable future (in the absence of any major events).

Current state of affairs between Turkey and US is not simply due to purchase of S-400 system from Russia. It’s an outcome of a long series of events.

Here we need to consider four important points

1. Turkey's inability to buy US/EU missile defense systems.
2. American Alliance with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.
3. Insecurities of Erdogan.
4. Russian powerplay.

Let's see what happened over the years.

Turkey has the second largest standing army in NATO after US. She is also considered as a bulwark between chaos in the West Asia and Europe. Though she is not a member of European Union, Turkey is a member of NATO from 1952 onward.

First Gulf War

During the First Gulf War, Ankara requested for air missile defense systems from NATO to defend against possible SCUD attacks from Saddam Hussein's Iraq. United States, Germany and the Netherlands deployed their Patriot batteries under NATO. Though designed during cold war time, Patriot defense system become legendary during first gulf war. Later, whenever requirements came, Ankara requested US(Patriot)/European (Eurosam SAMP/T) systems.

Buying new Air Defense systems

Later Ankara wanted to have their own missile systems with technology transfer and options to manufacture locally. A competition was initiated between Patriot PAC 2, Europe systems, Russian, and Chinese systems. US was not ready to transfer missile defense related sensitive technologies even to a NATO partner. Raytheon and US Department of Defense (US DoD) started negotiations. After a while, Syrian civil war started, and Erdogan became personally involved in discussions. Stunning US and NATO members, Erdogan announced in 2013 that Ankara is going to buy Chinese FD-2000 missile system. Chinese allowed some licensed production. However, in 2014 Ankara dropped Chinese offer and started a new round of bids.

Russia in Syria; Kurds and IS (Islamic State)

In 2015 Russia landed in Syria to support her losing ally Bashir Assad. Turkey and US were not able to agree on how to handle Russians. At the same time, US had to ally with Kurds in Syria and Iraq to halt the whirlwind of IS conquest of vast regions in Syria and Iraq. Kurds and Turkey are not in good terms, Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) is a designated terrorist organization in Turkey and on low intensity conflict with Ankara in South East Turkey. While Washington saw Kurds as an ally against IS, Ankara viewed them as threat to Turkey. At the same time, Kurds were the only reliable Syrian force to operate on both Syria and Iraq which has the capability to halt IS advance.

During this time, US announced the withdrawal of Patriot (deployed in Turkey since 2013) to Germany for maintenance and training. Though US deployed additional F-15s, Turkey felt themselves as vulnerable to missile attacks and probably lost confidence with systems owned by other countries.

Shooting down Russian fighter plane

In November 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian plane which reportedly entered Turkish air space. This brought up the possibility of retaliatory strikes from Russia. May be due to possibility of a war with combined NATO power, or other reasons there were no retaliatory strikes.

Turkish Military Coup and Fethullah Gulen

This was a game changer. In 2016 part of Turkish military tried to overthrow Erdogan when he was not in the capital. Coup was crushed. What followed next was a massive purge in military, civil services, academics etc. Whoever having any known/unknown/suspected link to Fethullah Gulen (Erdogan's erstwhile ally) found themselves in prison. Erdogan declared Gulen as the master mind behind failed coup. Gulen lives in US and Washington denied Ankara's request for extradition; citing lack of evidence. From there onward relation between Ankara and Washington spiraled down rapidly.

When Enemies become friends

Putin made the right moves and suddenly Ankara got a new partner - Moscow. Erdogan even went to the extent of suggesting that it is due the fault of a Gulenist pilot, Ankara shot down Russian plane. Putin saw a chance to cement the relations further and offered S-400 missile system (one of the most advanced in the world) to Ankara in July 2017. Two months later in Sep 2017 Erdogan announced that Ankara would buy S-400.

It's a known fact that US will never allow integration of F-35 with Russian made S-400 systems. For long US officials maintained that, “Russian missile system’s high-end radar capabilities could collect intelligence on stealthy F-35 if the two were used by the same country” and they won't let it happen. When S-400 deliveries reached Turkey on July 12, US announced that Turkey will no longer be part of F-35 program. In addition to that, Turkish companies which currently supplies 900 parts to F35 program will be replaced soon. This is going to cost around $600mn to US.

CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act)

In addition to expulsion there is CAATSA to deal with. CAATSA sanctions will kick in when countries buy Russian made defense equipment’s. It is yet to see whether Trump will give a waiver (very unlikely) for Turkey. In case of any absence of waiver, there will be sanctions and Turkey will be moving closer to Russia.


Turkey is still a critical member in NATO and a long-standing US ally. Though geographically located close to West Asian and Middle East conflict zones Turkey doesn't have the influence matching its size. Though politically considered to be a European country, Turkey is not part of EU or any other European affairs. However, Turkey is aspiring to become a key player and want to recover the lost prestige of Ottoman empire. Apart from Syrian theatre Turkey didn't get a major role in other key issues. Turkey became a major player in Egypt when Muslim Brotherhood got power. However, the revival of military in Cairo (when Sisi got power) reversed it.

It might not be possible for Turkey to suppress Kurds who spread over four countries. Turkey might need Washington to have a meaningful dialogue with Kurds. To become a major player in Middle East and West-Asia Turkey has to deal with Iran and its Shiite crescent as well as Gulf monarchies and Wahhabi Islam. Neither Iran and not the Saudi Arabia is going to shed their role and without backing of Washington Turkey may not be able to reach there.

Economically also Turkey is not doing good. Adverse relations with Washington only created more problems in economy. In 4th quarter of last year, after currency crisis devalued lira (Turkish currency) by nearly 30% against USD, economy contracted 3%. It drove inflation to 15 year high, severely limited Turkish companies' ability to service foreign debt. Bad loans are creating problems in banking sector. As per Reuters poll, economy will contract 0.3 percent this year. Turkey requires IMF support in recapitalizing state banks and restructuring debt. Erdogan's ideas on interest rate policies are not helping the economy either.

A way forward

S-400 is already in Turkey, F35 integration with S-400 is politically impossible. However, Ankara and Washington can work out behind the scenes - probably an IMF package to alleviate Turkish difficulties and sale of some other weapon systems to Turkey. May be giving more say to Turkey on future of Syria; there are still options for Washington to work with. It may not be a good idea for Washington to turn its back on a long-term ally. Let's wait and watch.



1. Warontherocks
2. WSJ
3. National Interest

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