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Top US general recommends nixing sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey

Curtis Scaparrotti says Turkey's promise to purchase Russian military technology should deter US from selling fighter jets
Turkey aims to revitalise its fleet by planning to purchase F-35 fighter jets (AFP)

The United States should avoid selling its F-35 fighter jets to Turkey if the country maintains its promise to purchase missile defence systems from Russia, the top US general to Europe said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

"My best military advice would be that we don't then follow through with the F-35, flying it or working with an ally that's working with Russian systems, particularly air defence systems, with what I would say is probably one of our most advanced technological capabilities," said US Army General and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Curtis Scaparrotti.

A US State Department spokesman echoed a similar claim to Scaparrotti.

"We've clearly warned Turkey that its potential acquisition of the S-400 will result in a reassessment of Turkey's participation in the F-35 programme and risk other potential future arm transfers to Turkey," spokesman Robert Palladino told a briefing.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Ankara is committed to buying the Russian system, despite warnings from the US-led alliance that the S-400s cannot be integrated into the NATO air defence system.

A Reuters report quotes US officials as saying that if Turkey proceeds with the S-400 purchase, Washington will withdraw its offer to sell a $3.5bn Raytheon Co Patriot missile package.

The S-400 deal is one of the key symbols of the warm relationship enjoyed by Erdogan and Putin, who have also worked closely on finding a political solution to the Syrian war.

Last month, US Vice President Mike Pence appealed to Erdogan in a phone call to renege on a missile deal with Russia in favour of an American one, Middle East Eye reported.

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The request stems from a US mandate that sanctions countries who conduct transactions with the Russian military industry, according to a law ratified by the US Congress in 2017 called CAATSA, or Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

According to the MEE report, Erdogan replied that Ankara’s deal with Moscow was at a point of no return, and Patriots didn't meet all three criteria Turkey needed: timely delivery, joint-production, and tech transfer.

Ankara is planning to replace its F-16 fleet in the near future with dozens of F-35s.

Last June, Turkey received the first shipment of US F-35 stealth fighter jets from Washington.