An F-35 fighter jet project without Turkish participation was bound to collapse, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.
Turkey’s plans to buy the Russian S-400 missile defenses has strained its ties with Washington, which has said they would compromise the security of Lockheed Martin F-35 jets and warned of potential US sanctions.
Turkey is both a partner in production of the F-35s and a prospective buyer.
Speaking at a defense industry fair, Erdogan said those trying to exclude Turkey from the F-35 project had not thought through the process and that Ankara’s allies had disregarded its defense needs.
“We were surely not going to remain silent against our right to self-defense being disregarded and attempts to hit us where it hurts,” Erdogan said. “This is the kind of process that is behind the S-400 agreement we reached with Russia,” he added.
“Nowadays, we are being subject to a similar injustice - or rather an imposition - on the F-35s... Let me be open: An F-35 project from which Turkey is excluded is bound to collapse completely,” Erdogan said, adding that Turkey was also rapidly working to develop its own air defense systems.
After months of warnings, the United States said that Turkey’s decision to buy Russia’s S-400 system was incompatible with remaining part of the emblematic US warplane program.
“Pending an unequivocal Turkish decision to forgo delivery of the S-400, deliveries and activities associated with the stand-up of Turkey’s F-35 operational capability have been suspended while our dialogue on this important matter continues with Turkey,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
US officials have voiced concern that, with Turkey in both camps, Russia could obtain F-35 data to improve the accuracy of the S-400 to shoot down Western aircraft.
Erdogan’s comments, his strongest challenge yet to warnings that Turkey could be removed from the F-35 project, came a day after he discussed the purchase of the S-400s and the working group proposal with US President Donald Trump in a phone call.
Turkey said two weeks ago it expected Trump to use a waiver to protect it against penalties over its purchase of the S-400s, after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Ankara could face retribution for the deal under a sanctions law known as Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CATSAA).