Turkey has been stockpiling F-16 fighter jet parts as the threat of US sanctions looms, according to a report from Bloomberg.
Two unnamed Turkish officials stated that Turkey initially began stockpiling in preparation for potential US sanctions after Turkey purchased Russian S-400 missiles. The two officials refused to reveal what kind of parts Turkey has been hoarding or the origin of their purchase.
The report brings Turkey’s motives into question, as it is unclear if Turkey has been stockpiling the parts since before the US’ recent decision to remove Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program in response to Turkey’s acquisition of Russian S-400 missiles.
“It is unclear if this was a long-term plan. If there was a long-term plan, then it is significant, as it suggests that they knew what they were getting into [with the S-400 deal] and they knew the consequences,” Ian Williams, fellow, International Security Program and deputy director, Missile Defense Project, at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, told Al Arabiya English.
“We don’t know if Turkey meant for the story to get out – it could be a leak – but assuming they did … it could be sending a signal that they’ll weather the storm [of sanctions],” he added.
However, Williams added that Turkey likely also felt compelled to stockpile parts out of necessity in order to ensure a supply of parts for its air force. The US Congress is threatening sanctions against Turkey which would impact Turkey’s entire military supply chain.
“Without F-16 parts, Turkey would have to dramatically restrict flying time, which is bad because they just liquidated half of their air force pilots. They need to replace them, or they could just start slowly cannibalizing air craft to make the spare parts,” said Williams.
It is unclear where Turkey has been sourcing the F-16 parts. Turkey produces some F-16 parts through a licensing deal with Lockheed Martin, but could have also secured parts from other suppliers.
Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the F-16 Fighting Falcon has around 3000 operational jets in 25 different countries around the world today.
Turkey will be forced to rely on its F-16s after the US cancelled its membership of the F-35 program in reaction to Ankara’s acquisition of S-400 missiles, which are designed to shoot down Western aircraft.
US Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Eliot Engel said on Monday that the S-400 deal could pose a threat to both NATO and US national security: “Turkey cannot operate an advanced Russian air defense system alongside sensitive NATO and American systems, period. President Erdogan must know there will be consequences.”
The deal also triggers sanctions under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) act. Although the US has not yet imposed sanctions on Turkey, US officials have made statements indicating that Turkey will be sanctioned under CAATSA.
US-Turkish relations have struggled in recent years. The US angered Turkey when it began arming the Kurdish militia known as the YPG, a group which Turkey considers a terrorist organization and a national security threat.
Erdogan’s animosity towards the US intensified after the failed coup against him in 2016, which he claimed was orchestrated by the US-based Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen. The US refused to extradite Gulen to Turkey.
According to Williams, Erdogan’s move for the S-400s is likely aimed to secure the survival of his regime, rather than based on national security calculations.
“Getting the S-400 brings [Russian President Vladimir] Putin on side. Erdogan is becoming more paranoid. He’s got elections coming up, the economy is bad. He looks around and sees how powerful Russian support can be.”
“Erdogan probably thinks that Putin’s support is more valuable. The decision is not about Turkish national security,” added Williams.