American lawmakers have introduced a new bipartisan bill seeking to ban F-35 deliveries to an “increasingly hostile and authoritarian” Turkey, partly because of Ankara’s decision to purchase Russia’s missile defense systems.
Seeking to pressure Turkey into behaving in a manner worthy of NATO “standards,” and to limit sharing of the alliance’s assets with “hostile actors,” Democratic Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline introduced a bipartisan ‘Ban F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Sales to Turkey Act’ on Thursday.
Fearing that Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is growing “increasingly hostile and authoritarian by the day,” US lawmakers are calling for a complete ban on the sale or transfer of F-35 aircraft, as well as intellectual property and technical data, to Turkey. Any potential transfers of the multirole stealth fighters would only be possible if the US president certifies that Ankara is not “taking steps to degrade NATO interoperability, exposing NATO assets to hostile actors, or degrading the general security of NATO member countries.”
Another three proposed conditions for the transfer of the fifth-generation warplanes include US presidential assurances that Ankara is not seeking to “purchase defense articles from a foreign country with respect to which sanctions are imposed by the United States,” jail US citizens, or participate in “military action” which violates international law.
Turkey has been seeking to purchase 116 F-35 units under the Joint Strike Fighter program deals signed in 2014 and 2016. However, the first deliveries of Lockheed Martin planes, slated for 2018-2019, were jeopardized by the growing rift between Washington and Ankara on a number of issues – including Turkey’s military operation in Syria and its decision to purchase Russian S-400 air-defense systems.
NATO countries fear that simultaneously operating both S-400s and F-35s could compromise the multi-billion-dollar program and expose its vulnerabilities, since Turkey seeks to combine all information systems on the F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation fighters with the Turkish Air Forces’ system network.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to Turkey’s thuggish, reprehensible behavior,” said Cicilline, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “There has to be consequences for any regime that commits such horrific human rights abuses and constantly steps out of line with our own interests. Banning the sale of these state-of-the-art weapons to Turkey is just common sense. It’s important that we hold NATO members to the same standard we would hold any other country.”