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Does the US need Turkey?

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Perhaps Washington finally realized that without Ankara, he would not be an effective player in the Middle East.

Senator Lindsey Graham said last month that the United States will try to return Turkey to the F-35 program. This statement was rather surprising given that Turkey was formerly excluded from the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program in July. In addition, the US Congress continues to threaten to strike Turkey under CAATSA after Ankara continued to purchase the Russian S-400 system, despite Washington’s relentless efforts to stop it.

Supporters of Turkey’s exclusion from the JSF program argued that Russian S-400 and F-35 fighter jets could not coexist because there was a risk that the Russians would gain access to the F-35 secret codes. However, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that “the US has not responded to Turkey’s offer to create a joint commission to test the S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems.”

So why did the United States change the decision to exclude Turkey from the F-35 program? Washington’s isolation in the Middle East is growing, and the financial problems facing the JSF program are increasing.

One of the biggest sources of discontent between the two NATO allies is the Pentagon’s continued support for the People’s Self-Defense Forces, the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which poses a major threat to Turkey’s national security. And if initially Washington intended to apply the CAATSA law, then Turkey subsequently warned that it would strike back by organizing a large unilateral military invasion of certain parts of Syria and forming a safe zone.

In August, Washington sent James Jeffrey, his special envoy for Syria, to Turkey to prevent Ankara from crushing allies in Syria. In addition, at the G20 Summit in Osaka, President Donald Trump and President Recep Erdogan agreed to increase bilateral trade to $ 75 billion. This convinced Ankara to abandon the invasion by establishing a joint patrol that began in September. However, then disagreement arose over the distance of joint patrols.

Turkey wanted the depth of this distance to be 30-35 km, the United States insisted on 10 km. Erdogan warned that Turkey’s patience is dwindling and an invasion could begin soon. Along the Turkish-Syrian border, 2 divisions of Turkish soldiers gathered, that is, an invasion is now more likely than ever. Graham’s proposal to return Turkey to the JSF program is most likely the last attempt to bribe the Turks so as not to spoil the “project of the Self-Defense Forces”, which the Pentagon has been developing for more than 5 years.

In addition, Graham’s proposal may also be an attempt to save the JSF program, which was criticized for being far behind schedule and was the most expensive military program of the Ministry of Defense. And it can cost taxpayers more than $ 1 trillion in 60 years of life. Despite the enormous budget, the F-35 program is far from ideal, and now it is facing problems that affect its performance. She was criticized for less than desired maneuverability, too many software problems and unreliable performance.

At high altitudes, the F-35 version of the Navy and Marine Corps can fly at supersonic speeds only for short periods of time, then there may be a risk of structural damage. Even former US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan questioned the F-35 program. In June 2014, the F-35 caught fire a few seconds before its pilot was supposed to take off at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

The fan blades are broken due to overheating. Another F-35 fighter caught fire while starting an engine at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. In October 2016, the F-35B crashed due to a wiring failure that caused a fire. In April 2019, the Japanese F-35 crashed in the Pacific. We managed to find the aircraft parts, the pilot’s body – no.

And, in spite of everything, the F-35 program today can be considered “too big to be able to cancel it,” although the F-35 Lockheed Martin manufacturer has had difficult times due to financial, technical and political reasons: it is difficult for him to find customers that would compensate for the already huge costs. Germany abandoned the F-35 earlier this year, favoring the Eurofighter. Lockheed Martin’s chances in the lucrative European market fell even more when joint fighter programs appeared.

In June, France, Germany and Spain introduced a joint program of new generation fighters (Dassault and Airbus). In July, Great Britain, Italy and Sweden announced a joint program of Tempest fighters (BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Saab and Leonardo). As a result, it becomes doubtful whether the UK, a tier 1 partner, will buy the proposed 138 F-35 aircraft, given that it has officially committed to buy only 48. Given all these potential market losses, it is unreasonable to exclude Turkey from the program that could buy 100 F-35 fighters.

Lockheed Martin’s JSF program has a serious spare part problem. In April, the United States Government General Accounting Office (GAO) warned that only 27% of F-35 aircraft around the world are capable of completing their missions, although the minimum number is 60%.

A fighter cannot perform so many missions or fly so often due to a lack of spare parts and due to the fact that the spare parts do not meet the needs of military services. GAO claims that 44% of the parts purchased are incompatible with aircraft recently deployed by the US Marine Corps.

Amid all these problems, Turkey’s continued participation has become even more necessary. Turkish aerospace companies produce more than 900 chassis parts and parts related to the fuselage. Appreciating the efficiency and quality of Turkish parts suppliers, Ellen Lord, the deputy secretary of defense, said that “the F-35 program will face delays in schedule and cost increases if Turkey is excluded from the program.” She added that the Pentagon is working to alleviate this problem, expressing the hope to keep Turkey in the program.

Today, Russia is doing an impressive job, attracting the second largest member of NATO, taking advantage of America’s mistakes. As the Pentagon continued to support Turkey’s enemy in Syria, Putin immediately offered full support for Turkey’s invasion. When Washington announced that Turkey should be excluded from the F-35 program, Putin immediately offered the Turks a deal for the Russian Su-35.

Following a recent statement, Lindsay Graham Trump reiterated Turkey’s need for JFS: “So many people forget that Turkey is a major US trading partner, they actually make a structural steel frame for our F-35 fighter.” This is a clear sign that without Turkey’s continued participation in the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin program it would be difficult to stay afloat. Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria and recent signs that Turkey may remain in the F-35 program suggest that Washington realized that it is no longer able to remain an effective player in the Middle East without Turkey. So there is hope that Turkish-American relations will recover.

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