Published: Sat, June 08, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Pentagon suspends Turkish F-35 training as Erdogan embraces Putin

Pentagon suspends Turkish F-35 training as Erdogan embraces Putin

Shanahan has also reportedly given his Ankara counterpart Hulusi Akar an ultimatum that all Turkish pilots now training in the United States to fly the F-35 jet must leave the country by 31 July.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has sent a letter notifying Turkey that all training of Turkish pilots will also end as of July 31. According to charts provided with Shanahan's letter, there are 42 Turkish pilots in the United States, attending F-35 training at Luke and Eglin.

The United States has made a decision to stop accepting any additional Turkish pilots who planned to come to the United States to train on F-35 fighter jets, USA officials say, in a clear sign of the escalating dispute over Ankara's plans to purchase Russian air defences, Reuters reports. But Ankara has questioned the Patriot's price tag and US ability to guarantee delivery in time to meet what both sides agree are Turkey's urgent defense needs.

The disclosure of the decision on the pilots follows signs that Turkey is moving ahead with the S-400 purchase.

Turkish Defense Ministry released a statement in response to Shanahan's letter on June 8. "Covering defense and security issues between the two countries, the letter expresses the expectation of finding a solution to the existing problems within the framework of strategic partnership and maintaining the comprehensive security cooperation and emphasizes the importance of continuing negotiations", the statement said.

US airmen walk next to a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft, as it is moved, on the eve of the 52nd Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, France June 18, 2017.

On Wednesday US President Donald Trump spoke by phone with Erdogan, in which they discussed the S-400 purchase, Erdogan's office said.

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"The S-400 is a Russian system created to shoot down an aircraft like the F-35", said Wheelbarger, an acting assistant secretary of defense. That will include the planned delivery this summer of the first two operational F-35 models owned by Turkey that have been used at Luke for training.

In Shanahan's letter, he reports being "disappointed" to learn this information, and said he warned Akar in a May 28 phone call that Turkey's participation in the F-35 would "discontinue" if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400. After that, "all worldwide travel orders will be cancelled, and Turkish Air Force personnel will be prohibited from entering the bases".

Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday it was "out of the question" for Turkey to back away from its deal with Moscow. "The basic problem within the Trump administration remains, however, the unresolved debate between those such as [Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] Jim Jeffrey and his deputy Rich Outzen who, in inner-agency debates, believe that the relationship with Turkey is so important they must excuse, ignore, or apologize for the worst excesses of [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan's behavior and those who recognize Turkey may no longer be salvageable".

Turkey is expected to begin installing its S-400 system next month.

But strains in ties between Washington and Ankara already extend beyond the F-35 to include conflicting strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of USA consular staff in Turkey.

Ankara confirmed last month that Turkish military personnel were receiving training in Russia to use the S-400, and that Russian personnel may go to Turkey. It said the administration also "continues to support advocacy for the Lockheed Martin F-21 and Boeing F/A-18 - two state of the art fighter aircraft that India is now evaluating", suggesting the U.S. is still hoping to wean India away from further European and Russian purchases.

While there had been an impression that the U.S. could give India CAATSA waivers for the S-400, recent statements by Washington suggest that this would not be the case. "Our team is committed to minimizing any impact to the program so that we can continue to deliver and sustain this transformational capability for all F-35 operators".

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