ATHENS – Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he wants Turkey to get American-made F35s – a sale supporters of Greece said could endanger the country – but that it must be accompanied by purchasing the Patriot missile defense system and not the At a House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing, Shanahan was asked whether the United States wanted Turkey in the F-35 program even though Greek-American organizations want the sale blocked. “We absolutely do; we need Turkey to buy the Patriot,” he answered about the system made by Raytheon.
The US is anxious that Turkey would want a Russian missile defense system that could compromise the Lockheed Martin Corp-made F-35’s security and American officials told the news agency Reuters the sale of the fighter jets could be frozen.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said on March 21 that it will be difficult to proceed with the sale and delivery of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Turkey given Turkey’s insistence on acquiring a Russian system designed to shoot them down.
“It’s a tough issue,” Dunford said, and the U.S. “would have a hard time” justifying the F-35 sale to a nation that has Russia’s S-400 advanced anti-air system, Military.com reported.
Dunford said he’s worked hard to improve relations with NATO-allied Turkey, but the S-400s could be a deal-breaker on the F-35 sale. “We’re hopeful to find a way through this, but it’s a tough issue,” Dunford said.
Turkey wants to buy 100 F-35s to replace its air fleet that regularly violates airspace of Greece, a fellow NATO member, with no rebuke from the defense alliance. The F-35s would be far superior to the F-16s Greece has, and which it wants the US to upgrade.
“The S-400 is a computer. The F-35 is a computer. You don’t hook your computer to your adversary’s computer and that’s basically what we would be doing,” Katie Wheelbarger, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, told the news outlet in an interview.
While relations with Greece are said to be their best ever – ironically under the formerly anti-American ruling Radical Left SYRIZA – the US wants to arm Turkey with fighter jets that would put the Greek Air Force at a distinct disadvantage.
Despite that, the US-Greece Strategic Dialogue earlier held in Washington buttressed co-operation between the countries, with the US keen on getting another military base in the country to go along with a Naval facility on Souda Bay on Crete.
Turkey has also received one F-35 and Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News said two more were on the way at the same Greek-American groups want the sales stopped.
Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the F-35 program told Turkey’s Anadolu Agency that the sales include training Turkish fighter pilots at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, effectively helping them prepare to tangle with Greek pilots in frequent mock dogfights.
The US also conducts joint military exercises in Greece, working with both countries despite rising tensions and with Turkey upping provocations in the Aegean where it sends fighters into Greek airspace and warships past Greek islands.
“Turkey currently has two F-35As at Luke Air Force Base and two other aircraft are in final preparations to go to Luke,” said DellaVedova. “The first two aircraft are currently scheduled to arrive in the country in November.”