WASHINGTON, June 10 (Reuters) - Turkey's F-35 pilots are no longer flying at a U.S. air base in Arizona, the Pentagon told Reuters on Monday, as the United States winds down Ankara's involvement in the advanced fighter jet program over Turkey's plans to buy Russian air defenses.
"The department is aware that the Turkish pilots ... are not flying," said Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews, a Pentagon spokesman.
"Without a change in Turkish policy, we will continue to work closely with our Turkish ally on winding down their participation in the F-35 program."
The Turkish and U.S. defense chiefs may discuss Ankara’s planned purchase of a Russian missile system during a meeting of NATO defense ministers this month, according to a Turkish security official, according to Bloomberg.
In a letter to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan gave Turkey until July 31 to discontinue its purchase of the S-400 system or the United States will stop training Turkish pilots on the F-35, proceed with the F-35 development program without Turkish input, and find new manufacturers for jet parts solely made in Turkey. Turkish officials told Hurriyet Daily News that there would be no change in the acquisition of the S-400 in response to the letter. The U.S. "wind down" could take place in early 2020 should Turkey proceed with the S-400 purchase.
Turkey’s security bureaucracy already has alternative plans in case the United States halts the delivery of the F-35 jets over Ankara’s decision to buy S-400 missile systems and has been considering Russian Su-57 or Chinese J-31 stealth fighters as possible options, pro-government Yeni Şafak daily said on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Newswire service Anadolu reports that Turkey may even pull out of NATO if unacceptable U.S. demands and threats continue, dealing the alliance a possibly fatal blow, an analyst has warned.
"Turkey’s military is second only to the U.S. in troop strength. Pulling out of NATO would be a significant body blow to the alliance," Stephen Lendman wrote in a Sunday article for the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), a Canadian-based nonprofit.
"If unacceptable U.S. demands and threats continue, it [withdrawal] may be inevitable," Lendman said.
He made the comments at a time when the strategic future of Turkish-U.S. relations is facing a number of trials.
In December 2017, Turkey agreed to buy Russian S-400 air defense systems after its 2013 initiatives to purchase U.S.-made Patriot missiles fell on deaf ears.
A NATO official had told The World News Monitor earlier: “It is up to Allies to decide what military equipment they buy, but at the same time we are concerned about the potential consequences of Turkey’s decision to buy S-400. The United States has made it clear that they will impose sanctions should Turkey go-ahead with the purchase. It is in the interest of all to avoid such a situation. What matters for NATO is that the equipment Allies acquire is able to operate together. Interoperability of our armed forces is fundamental to NATO for the conduct of our operations. We welcome that Turkey is working with France and Italy on developing a long-range air and missile defence system and that Turkey and the United States are in dialogue about the possible acquisition of Patriot air defence missiles”.
Trump Can’t Afford to Go Soft on Turkey: Erdogan’s purchase of a Russian air-defense system is a serious threat to U.S. national security, analysts Eric Edelman and Jonathan Schanzer wrote in the WSJ recently.