Could Turkish arms aid to Ukraine reclaim Ankara’s F-35 status

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The United States is strategizing a significant increase in the procurement of military-grade explosives from Turkey to enhance the production of American artillery. This initiative arises from the alarming decrease in domestic reserves.  

Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Boosting artillery production capacity will enable the United States to provide more efficient arms assistance to Ukraine and Israel. These nations have been exhausting their munitions rapidly since October 2023, severely disrupting the regional power dynamics, particularly pertaining to Ukraine.  

By deepening its reliance on a fellow NATO member, the U.S. aims to replenish its ammunition stocks. It expects to procure crucial propellants like trinitrotoluene and nitroguanidine, which are fundamental for domestic arms manufacturing, from Turkey.

Photo credit: USAF

Key Mideast allies

Both Turkey and the U.S., as NATO members, have played pivotal roles in supplying military equipment to Ukraine. Turkish drones were initially praised as groundbreaking in the early stages of the Russian-Ukrainian War, but unfortunately, they were later found to have serious limitations in combat. 

Both of these nations have been key supporters of Israel during its ongoing conflict with Syria, Hezbollah, and various Palestinian militia groups. Turkey remains actively engaged in the Syrian conflict and continues to back Islamist militia groups. 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Militia groups that receive support from the Turkish state have directly attacked Russian and Hezbollah military installations in Syria. Earlier this year, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, indicated that the U.S. might supply F-35 fifth-generation fighters to Turkey, provided Ankara satisfies specific American conditions regarding the disuse of Russian S-400 air defense systems.

Nuclear agreement

If supplied, these fighters will also possess the ability to use American-provided B61 nuclear warheads during wartime. This is part of a nuclear sharing agreement between Ankara and Washington. It effectively enables Turkey to become a nuclear weapons state during wartime. 

Photo credit: USAF

Significant European backing for the Israeli nuclear weapons program gives the principal security partners of the Western Bloc in the Middle East an edge over competing interests. 

During a period of more amicable relations with Moscow in 2016, Turkey agreed to acquire S-400 air defense systems. However, there have since been developments with continued calls for these systems to be returned to Russia, sold illegally to Ukraine, or to other NATO members.

Turkey reaped benefits

Photo credit: Il Manifesto

Membership in the F-35 program has proven beneficial for Turkey. The country’s lower labor costs have enabled more cost-effective manufacturing of aircraft components, reducing the overall price for numerous NATO members and a select handful of non-NATO clients, such as Israel and Japan. 

The U.S. has consistently rejected the sale of F-35s to any other Middle Eastern state, aside from Israel and Turkey. This exclusivity reflects the strong defense ties established with Israel since the mid-1960s, and Turkey’s role as a key NATO member, pivotal in safeguarding Western Bloc interests in the region. 

Recognizing these two states as nuclear powers reinforces their importance to Western interests in the region. It’s important to note that the F-35 is an ideal fighter plane for the delivery of nuclear weapons.

Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

What is happening to the Turkish F-35s?

Turkey’s media outlet, Aydınlık, recently revealed that the United States is demanding payment for the maintenance of undelivered F-35 fighter jets that have been stored for an astonishing six-year period. 

The US is reportedly asking for approximately $30 million in total, a figure derived from the ongoing, monthly technical care these jets require. Interestingly, this is the first request of its kind, only emerging for the first time in 2022. 

Photo credit: Pixabay

This issue was highlighted again by the US following a suggestion from Ankara. The proposal outlined a strategy to offset some of the cost for a new $23 billion US military equipment order using funds already allocated for the F-35 fighter jets. As part of this strategy, Turkey plans to procure 40 new F-16 Block 70 aircraft, 79 upgrade kits, 48 F110 engines, and a wide array of ammunition from the United States.

Arbitration is closed 

In the aftermath of Turkey’s removal from the F-35 fifth-generation strike fighter joint production program, an initiative it originally collaborated in, the primary approach was to attempt reinstatement through a variety of lobbying firms. Eventually, Turkey shifted its focus to exploring alternative options like arbitration. 

Photo credit: AP

Interestingly, the written agreement of the F-35 accord, authenticated in 2007 by the then Minister of National Defense, Vejdi Gonul, explicitly stipulates that disputes are not eligible for appeal in international courts. Section 17 of the pact underlines: “The resolution of any disagreements resulting from this memorandum of understanding shall be limited to volunteering discussions among the parties involved, without recourse to individual, national, international judicial entities or other organizations.” 

Faced with this challenging situation, the path toward securing refunds through arbitration appeared both strenuous and protracted. Subsequently, Turkey adopted a compensation strategy, a method similar to the F-16 order. This tactic permitted the funds previously destined for the F-35 to instead be redirected towards the final order. However, the United States insists that it owes nothing in return.

Turkish F-35s 

Photo credit: RAAF / X

Originally, the Turkish Air Force was set to receive a fleet of 100 F-35s, with a delivery schedule that outlined the arrival of the first official batch of 30 F-35 Lightning IIs. This schedule included plans to incrementally deliver 2 aircraft in 2018, 4 in 2019, and 8 each year from 2020 through 2022. 

As part of this strategy, an initiative was developed to send 34 Turkish pilots to the US for dedicated F-35 training. However, these meticulous plans were abruptly halted due to the imposition of an embargo and CAATSA sanctions by the US. The purchase of the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system by Turkey triggered these strict measures. 

In the aftermath of these sanctions, production for six F-35As intended for the Turkish Air Force had already been completed at the time of the embargo announcement. This series of events ultimately led to Turkey’s ejection from the F-35 program in September 2021. Despite this unexpected turn of events, Turkey had already made an impressive investment of US$1.4 billion into the program.

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