US kicking NATO ally Turkey out of fighter program

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In a significant break with a longtime NATO ally, the Trump administration on Wednesday said Turkey can no longer be part of the American F-35 fighter jet program.

In a written statement, the White House said that Turkey’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 air defense system “renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible.”

The White House did not say explicitly that Turkey will be kicked out of the F-35 program, but the Pentagon was expected to do so.

Turkey makes numerous components for the stealth aircraft, which is sold internationally. If Turkey is removed from the program, as expected, the US will have to find alternative suppliers.

“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence-collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the White House statement said, referring to the S-400 air defense system as a means for Russia to probe US capabilities.

President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that the S-400 purchase means Turkey will not be allowed to purchase any F-35 planes.

Yet to be announced is whether the US will impose economic sanctions on Turkey for its decision.

The break with Turkey over its purchase of a Russian weapon system is symptomatic of a deeper division between Ankara and its Western allies and partners.

Army Secretary Mark Esper, Trump’s nominee to become secretary of defense, told his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday he is troubled by Turkey’s decision to defy the United States on the S-400, suggesting that it reveals a broader strategic problem.

“It is very disheartening to see how they have drifted over the past several years,” Esper said.

Turkey has complained that it was not given favorable terms to buy the American alternative to the Russian S-400 air defense system. The White House, however, said in its statement Wednesday that Turkey had plenty of chances to buy the US Patriot system.

“This administration has made multiple offers to move Turkey to the front of the line to receive the US Patriot air defense system,” it said.

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