Turkey "Reconsidering" Some Defense Cooperation with U.S.
Last month, Turkey announced that it was going to build an indigenous fighter jet by 2023, which raised the question: what's the point, given that it's already building fighter jets with the U.S., including the current F-16 and the next-generation F-35? Today's Zaman provides a possible answer: it's reconsidering its aerospace cooperation with the U.S. altogether:
Turkey is seriously reconsidering the myriad agreements it has signed with the US, as well as its participation in an international consortium for the procurement of new generation fighter jets, due to rising costs and persisting problems originating from the American side.
Turkey is now seeking new ways to sidestep difficulties in the procurement of F-16 fighter planes, which it has been jointly producing with the US since 1987, due to the delayed delivery by the US authorities of some of the plane’s parts and accessories. There have been serious doubts as to whether Turkey’s plan to purchase 100 F-35 fighter planes would ever materialize, as the country is thinking about withdrawing from the consortium following the hike in costs that resulted from other countries leaving from the consortium.
According to the story, the U.S. has reneged on several agreements with Turkey regarding F-16 production, and that Washington appears to be growing wary of Turkey's loyalty, for reasons including the joint China-Turkey air exercises last year.
The sourcing on this story is thin (it seems to be one unnamed official from the Turkish Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry) and doesn't provide details of what specific sorts of measures Turkey might take as part of this reconsideration. But if it happened, it would certainly be a bombshell. Military cooperation is probably the strongest part of the U.S.-Turkey relationship, and production of these planes is probably the single most significant part of that cooperation. So this would amount to a filing for divorce, or at least a serious separation.
But I asked Steve Trimble, an ace aviation reporter and blogger, whether he gave the report any credence. He said he was skeptical, noting that Turkey has long been one of the strongest supporters of the F-35. Plus, Turkish defense industry has gotten a lot of subcontracts out of its participation in the F-35, without too much commitment on Turkey's part:
Turkey hasn't put hardly anything into the program yet -- maybe $150 million -- and yet has collected new contracts worth potentially billions and industrial capability that can't be bought for any price. Turkey isn't planning to invest in new F-35s for several more years, so why drop out when you can continue collecting payments on supplier contracts and not have to spend a penny? It just doesn't make sense.
Lots of countries have talked about building indigenous fighters -- Brazil, Venezuela, Iran, South Korea and Japan, etc. But building a fighter with any combat credibility -- especially in Turkey's part of the world -- is not easy, and probably costs more than Turkey would be spending on F-35 production models anyway.
Still, it's interesting that senior Turkish officials are even floating ideas like this. Is this a bluff to try to get the U.S. to cooperate better? One disgruntled official? We'll have to see.