Tensions between Washington and Ankara ratcheted up after NATO’s supreme allied commander US General Curtis Scaparrotti warned that if Turkey deploys the Russian S-400 air defence system, the US should not deliver Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) to the nation.
Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on 5 March, Gen Scaparrotti briefed lawmakers about the challenges he faces in Europe, threats from Russia, and the upcoming decision on whether to deliver F-35 aircraft to Turkey as planned. On the latter topic, the four-star general did not equivocate: if Ankara fields the S-400, then Washington should not hand over the new aircraft and should consider prohibiting the nation from buying other military technologies.
Turkey's first F-35A as shown at Lockheed Martin’s delivery ceremony at its Fort Worth, Texas, production centre on 21 June 2018. The F-35A conventional variant was delivered to Turkey during the ceremony. (Lockheed Martin)
“My best military advice would be that we don’t then follow through with the F-35, flying it or working with allies that [are] working with Russian systems, particularly air defence systems,” Gen Scaparrotti, who is also the head of US European Command, told lawmakers.
“I would hope that [Turkey] would reconsider this one decision on S-400, one system, but potentially forfeit many of the other systems and one of the most important systems that we can provide them,” he later added.
In addition to citing technology security concerns associated with operating the S-400 alongside US aircraft, Gen Scaparrotti said the Russian air defence system is not “interoperable” with NATO systems.
The four-star US general’s warning did not pass unnoticed and prompted a response from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who called out the US for creating unnecessary obstacles.