Washington’s strong reaction against Turkey over its decision to purchase Russia’s S-400 missile defence system may reinforce disputes within the NATO alliance, according to an analyst.
The tensions between Turkey and the U.S. will result in greater Turkish military cooperation with Russia, said Karol Wasilewski, Turkey analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM).
It will also result in more U.S. limitations on military cooperation with Turkey, Wasilewski said.
His comments come at a time when tensions between the two countries may rise further as the delivery date approaches for the Russian S-400 system, which is scheduled for next month.
“A stronger U.S. reaction may also reinforce disputes within the alliance, given the expected opposition of some countries,” he said, citing Germany as an example.
It is said that possible U.S. sanctions against Turkey may spur tensions within the alliance due to the large trade volume Turkey has with another NATO member, Germany.
Wasilewski also underlined that the decision to acquire the Russian system is part of Turkey’s desire to achieve “strategic autonomy”.
“By 2053, Turkey wants its arms industry to be self-sufficient, which has forced the country to systematically reduce its dependence on Western suppliers, currently dominant in arms transactions, and acquire new technologies,” he said.
Wasilewski said one of the crucial aspects that facilitated Turkey’s S-400 transaction was Russia’s willingness to include technology transfer, in contrast to Western allies’ proposals, which failed to meet Turkey’s military demands.
In December 2017, Turkey agreed to buy Russia’s S-400 air defense system after its initiatives in 2013 to purchase U.S.-made Patriot missiles fell on deaf ears.
During the height of the expanding Syrian civil war which threatened Turkey’s southern borders, Washington was aware of Turkey’s need for an air defense system yet proposed an exorbitant price for its Patriots.
In an interview this April with Defense & Aerospace Report, Stephen Flanagan, a senior political scientist at policy think tank the RAND Corporation, said the U.S. had “concerns” about Turkey at the time.
In 2013, the U.S. assumed that Turkey would be unable to secure its defense needs through other vendors, Russia in particular, since the two countries were at odds with each other over the Syrian war until 2016.
Turkey later shopped for European alternatives, especially Italian. But in 2017, when Russia offered its state-of-the art S-400s at a reasonable price and with a fair contract, the Turkish government signed the deal.
Since then, although Turkish officials have repeatedly stressed their commitment to NATO’s mission and said Turkey is not choosing Russia over NATO, Washington has pursued a policy of issuing threats.
That policy reached a new low last week, when the U.S. State Department gave Turkey a July 31 deadline to suspend the S-400 deal or face consequences.
Rebuffing the deadline, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the S-400 issue is a “done deal” and “backtracking is out of the question,” while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said “no one can force Turkey to choose between NATO and Russia”.
Turkey’s contributions to F-35 project
The U.S. threat to cut Turkey out of the F-35 project ignores not only its settled contract to buy the jets but also its long and integral role in producing technology for the advanced planes.
Spearheaded by defense giant Lockheed Martin, Turkey joined the U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program in 2002 along with the U.K., Italy, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and Canada, and to date has invested more than $1.25 billion.
Turkey has partnered with Lockheed Martin for more than 25 years, primarily on the F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft.
It also manufactures more than 900 aircraft parts for all F-35 variants and customers.
Industries of participating countries have been contributing to the program.
One of the most complex structural sections of the aircraft, the F-35A Center Fuselage, is produced by Turkish Aerospace Industries as a second source.
Top Turkish defense firms Aselsan, Havelsan, Kale Aero, Kale Pratt & Whitney, Ayesas and Alp Aviation also manufacture essential components of the F-35 and provide cutting-edge engineering services.
Under the U.S. system, as a Level 1 country, Britain has the most privileges, followed by Italy and the Netherlands at Level 2 and five other countries, including Turkey, at Level 3.
Israel, Japan and Singapore have participated in the project as export customers.
Turkish industry’s participation contributes significantly to the program’s cost effectiveness, which is one of the most major concerns for the project’s future.
Turkey plans to purchase 100 of the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant.
According to official statements, the development phase will be completed by 2020 and full-scale production will start.