Turkey Must Chose U.S. or Russia in Weapons Dispute, Senator Says

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey’s government must choose between purchasing Russia’s advanced air defense system or staying a partner in the U.S.’s costliest weapons program, the F-35 jet, the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said.

“For Turkey to remain in the F-35 program, it can’t move ahead with procurement” of the Russian system known as the S-400, Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma said in a statement to Bloomberg News.

Inhofe, who has succeeded the late John McCain as head of the Senate panel, commented in response to a Pentagon report, mandated by Congress, that warned “the administration will reassess Turkey’s continued participation as one of the eight partner nations should they continue their purchase of the S-400.”

Turkey has been a partner in building and buying Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 since 2002. The NATO ally has committed $1.25 billion and planned to buy as many as 100 of the fighters.

“That’s the right call,” Inhofe said of the Pentagon’s stance. “Turkey is an important NATO ally, but they need to act like it as well,” he said. He said Turkey has genuine air-defense requirements “but the bottom line is: Turkey must make a decision between Russia and the West. If it moves ahead with buying the S-400 from Russia, there will be consequences.”

Read a Q&A with Senator Inhofe on his Armed Services agenda for next year

The U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are unhappy about Turkey’s planned S-400 acquisition because such complex weapons systems “usually involve a certain number of trained specialists from the source country, in this case Russia, being deployed to the client’s country for training and upkeep,” said Steve Zaloga, a missile specialist for the Teal Group, a defense analysis firm based in Fairfax, Virginia.

Plus there’s “the concern that the Turks might allow Russian specialists to test out the S-400 radars/sensors against a Turkish F-35 with the ultimate aim of undermining the F-35’s counter-radar detection features,” Zaloga said in an email.

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