Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile defense system was a milestone for a NATO member state, and in contrast to the unprecedented tension between Washington and Ankara, Turkey paid a direct price for its decision to exclude it from the program to produce the latest fifth generation fighter “F-35”. In light of the insistence of the United States on the impossibility of combining the Russian system and the American plane into one army for any country, and in light of the two parties’ adherence to their agreement, Turkey must make a difficult choice between the Russian system and the American plane, a choice much more complex than just a direct trade-off between two strategic weapons that need Ankara strongly to both.
But Turkey has become one of the three countries contributing to the “F-35” project, which will not be allowed to possess aircraft on its soil, and will not receive them soon, despite the fact that the plane has already reached other buyers who did not contribute to its production, such as Israel and Japan, and South Korea, Belgium and Finland have also contracted to Purchasing it in the coming years, as the tension in Turkish-American relations brought Washington to expulsion from the project after receiving the first batch of the Russian missile system.
The Turks have always seemed confident in their ability to manage complex and sometimes conflicting relations with major international and regional powers. They are rapidly approaching Moscow while their membership in NATO remains firmly established, coordinating with Tehran while continuing to support their enemies in Syria, and supporting Hamas. While the official channels continue to be open between them and the Israelis, the world of solid and sensitive weapons at the same time does not proceed with the same flow, crossing the lines of friendship and enmity back and forth, as Turkish diplomacy has been professional for decades, especially the last decade, as there is a crossroads that has come, An inevitable crossroads for Ankara to choose between Russian air defense or the latest American aircraft, which is a crucial choice regarding the future of Turkish armament in particular, and its strategic location between East and West in general.
Almost ten years were needed by the American company “Lockheed Martin” before the first “F-35” aircraft came out to light, another ten years were added to it to begin the production and expanded development of the aircraft in cooperation with NATO allies, and then the United States gradually began to deliver its production to those countries years in which the cost of the entire project exceeded a trillion dollars The F-35 has an engine specially developed for it that can reach a speed of two thousand kilometers per hour, a speed easily exceeded by other aircraft, but without the ability of the F-35 to maneuver while maintaining its high speed. (1)
The plane, far from its dynamic specifications, is distinguished by a remarkable development in its technologies, which allows it to evade most of the radar devices that capture older American planes, in addition to a remote sensing system integrated into a system that feeds pilots with direct information, giving them a live view of the Earth. The battle in detail, all of which are technical capabilities based on an advanced data processor that can perform 400 billion operations per second. (2)
On the other side of the earth, where the Russians are located on a wide geographical area and adjacent to the NATO allies, air defense systems and their development are receiving great attention, the most famous of which was the S-300 system during the Cold War, which witnessed many modernizations until the development of its successor, the S-400, began during the 1990s. And the latter has a radar system covering a distance of six hundred kilometers, in addition to its missiles’ working range of four hundred kilometers, in addition to its flexibility and speed of movement and launching missiles of different types at the same time, and then the “S-400” becomes a strong addition to any defensive arsenal, especially For a country with the geographical location of Turkey, however, there is a problem with the main countries in the Western alliance, which lies in the conflict between the operation of the “S-400” in its airspace in parallel with the latest types of Western equipment, the most important of which is the “S-35” aircraft. (3)
The main conflict in Turkey’s possession – or any country – of the F-35 aircraft along with the S-400 is the possibility of Russian radar devices detecting and tracking American aircraft, and identifying their combat specifications after the Turkish army used them for a long time at a time when The S-400 system protects the very airspace in which it will fly, in addition to the possibility of misleading by the Russians if the coded waves it uses to communicate with “friendly” weapon systems are identified.owned by NATO countries, all of which are risks that may reduce their efficiency in any possible US-Russian confrontation in the future; Or any confrontation between the allies of the United States on the one hand and its enemies on the one hand, whether those regimes that are directly supported by Russia, such as Syria or Belarus, or those who possess Russian weapons such as China and North Korea, as well as any confrontation between Turkey itself and Russia in any area where the conflict may erupt. between them; They are not a few areas and extend from Syria to the Black Sea.
Moreover, NATO aircraft use a precise electronic system to identify friendly and enemy aircraft in any airspace in which they fly, known as IFF, a system that needs to be installed and integrated into the Russian missile defense system; In order for the Turkish F-35 to fly over Turkey under the protection of the S-400 without being targeted as an enemy aircraft; This also represents a potential danger to the “IFF” system and the possibility of penetration by Russian operators, especially since information and security penetration has become a pillar of the Russian strategy towards NATO countries in recent years.
This is not limited to the danger that the S-400 poses to the aircraft themselves, but also extends to the sensitive data system that the F-35 will communicate with to be part of an information network that communicates with other NATO-owned aircraft, as well as ships, and perhaps some land equipment. On the ground, as all of this will be connected to each other in what is known as the “Link 16” network, which enables NATO allies to share military information together directly, and once again the Turks would have to integrate the “Link 16” system with the “S400” Which poses a great informational risk given the possibility of the Russians penetrating the network by planting a program in the S-400 battery guidance system, which means exposing a huge amount of sensitive military information to NATO at the risk of an endless Russian electronic hack. (4)
In July 2017, the United States passed the “Confronting American Adversaries Through Sanctions” Act (CAASTA), which provides in one of its provisions to impose economic sanctions on countries, companies or persons that perform significant contracts with Entities associated with the Russian armed forces, and in August 2019, former US President Donald Trump approved the National Defense Authorization Act, which obligated the US Department of Defense to issue a report evaluating the US military and political presence in Turkey, as well as an assessment of Turkey’s purchase of the “S-400” and its effects on weapon systems. The American presence on its soil, as well as Turkey’s participation in the “F-35” project, and what steps can be taken to mitigate the negative effects and then exclude them if necessary, and finally the alternatives offered to the “S-400” system.Which can be submitted to Ankara by Washington and the NATO countries, and the law stipulated that Turkey should not deliver the “F-35” planes before the aforementioned report reached the Congress and its relevant committees, and this was the first time that the intention to search for an alternative to Turkey in the “F-35” project was clearly raised and its exclusion from him. (5)
Turkey will, of course, be mainly affected by the American decision to exclude it from the “F-35” project, not only to deprive it of enjoying the advanced technology of the aircraft, the advantages of joint operation with the major countries of the world and the important military information that will be circulated among them, but there will also be an economic loss, as Turkey is supplying more than 800 parts of the aircraft to Lockheed Martin with huge financial contracts, contracts that Washington will grant to other partner countries in the program or alternatives after excluding Ankara, which will cause a financial loss for the latter given the involvement of the largest Turkish military manufacturing companies in the project. for billions of dollars; It will be a costly blow, especially in light of the current difficult Turkish economic situation.
But the Turks will not only be harmed, but the Americans will be harmed as well, as former US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said in a speech to the US Congressional Armament Committee, where he indicated that if Turkey was excluded from the project, Washington would delay the delivery of 50 to 75 F aircraft. 35″ for the allies, in addition to the loss of a year and a half or two years in which the production lines in which Turkey participated will be restructured for the benefit of other partners before production resumes in its normal form. In this regard, (7) the former US ambassador to Turkey, Eric Edelman, indicated that Erdogan is betting on Washington’s retreat from excluding Turkey in the end, given the important role it played in producing the plane, but it seems that Washington is determined to stick to its position. To the end, which was put at a crossroads between the most modern aircraft in the world, and one of the most powerful air defense systems invented by man in the post-Cold War world until now.
The American message came clear in April 2019, and in full view of everyone. A message that probably reached Turkish officials with the same clarity, before the Americans decided to publish it also in the New York Times with an article (8) with the explicit title “Either the F-35 or the S-400, not both,” in an explicit reference to the inevitability of Ankara choosing between the two. The article was not just an opinion piece written by an analyst, for example. Rather, it gained its importance from the fact that it was an article written by four important members of Congress, namely; John Einhoff, the Republican senator who chairs the Congressional Arms Committee, Jack Reed, a Democratic senator from the same committee, Jim Risch, the Republican senator who chairs the Congressional Committee on Foreign Relations, and Bob Menendez, a Democratic senator who sits on the same committee. https://www.youtube.com/embed/CrLcDjBT0tI?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
With that paragraph, the four members opened their short article, clearly indicating that Turkey will be subject to the economic sanctions determined by the American law “CASTA”, which will “hit its economy hard,” they said, expelling huge foreign investments and negatively affecting its defense and air industry. Of course, Turkey will get any F-35 plane, and all its companies will be excluded from the production lines for all its parts, as we mentioned, and the billion and a quarter of the billion that it invested in the project will go to waste, and then “President Erdogan’s hopes that the Turkish military industry will turn into a cornerstone for growth will be dashed The economic future” as the article says, which seems to have been right in almost everything except for his prediction of when the Turks will stand before the two choices. The “end of the year” prophecy has turned into less than three months after they wrote the article.
Then came former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s affirmation of his country’s position, in a statement he made to a member of the Congressional Foreign Relations Committee about the impossibility of operating the F-35 aircraft in an atmosphere in which the Russian S-400 defense system operates, noting that the Americans made it clear to their counterparts in Ankara. The nature of this “technical problem,” as he called it through their diplomatic and military channels (9), all of which are statements that follow the passage of a law in the US Congress that requires that Turkey not deliver any F-35 aircraft until Washington is sure that the S-400 deal is not completed. (10)
Therefore, Turkey continued to bet on the Americans’ acceptance of a kind of compromise between the presence of the “S-400” and “F-35” within the same airspace, and the Americans continued to insist that this is impossible for purely technical and security reasons, limiting their statements before the US administration implemented the order to exclude Ankara from The program is actually effective, and Turkey actually receives the first batch of units of the Russian system, and despite Turkish officials’ reference to the presence of the oldest “S-300” system in Greece, which is a NATO member state, America has maintained that the “S-400” specifically is a red line, especially in a country Like Turkey, it is central to US military operations in the Middle East, and very close to circles in which Russia poses a threat to NATO and, ironically, Turkey as well.
As usual, the difference between the Turks and the Americans always comes when the Turks follow their own vision of themselves as a central state in the region, and not just a pivotal country in the belt of southern Europe as American officials always like to see them, a difference that opened the door to several clashes between them, the first of which was in the seventies when The war erupted between Turkey and Greece, contrary to Washington’s desire, and secondly, when the Americans invaded Iraq and gave the Kurds air protection, contrary to Ankara’s desire, before the Iraqi Kurdish crisis recurred in 2003, and finally the Kurds of Syria now, but the two sides have always found a diplomatic way in the end to restore The water flows for many reasons, the most important of which is the continued view of Russia as an existential threat to Ankara, as well as Turkey’s need for the structure of the American alliance and its advantages to confront its enemies, two features that continue to this day in view of the recent Russian expansions in Georgia, Ukraine, Crimea and Syria, all of which are adjacent to Turkey.