Over US Warnings, Turkey Gets Russian-Made S-400 Missile System

Parts of the S-400 air defense systems are unloaded from a Russian transport aircraft in Turkey.
Military vehicles and equipment, parts of the S-400 air defense systems, are unloaded from a Russian transport aircraft, at Murted military airport in Ankara, Turkey, July 12, 2019. (Turkish Defense Ministry via AP, Pool)

Turkey has officially gotten its hands on the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system, despite U.S. efforts to sway the NATO ally from the purchase to keep its membership in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

Turkish and Russian officials announced Friday that Turkey had formally taken delivery of its first set of S-400 system equipment, showing multiple videos of the delivery to the Murted military air base northwest of Ankara.

"As part of the fulfillment of contractual obligations, the Russian Defense Ministry delivered the first batch of property from the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system to Turkey," the Russian Ministry of Defence said in a Facebook post accompanied by a video. Turkey also posted video of the delivery on social media.

"The delivery is carried out in accordance with the agreements reached between the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the improvement of the Turkish air defense system," the Russian post said, according to a translation.

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Russia said the S-400 -- nicknamed the "F-35 killer" by Moscow -- is the "newest air defense system designed to destroy a wide range of modern and promising means of air attack" in contested domains.

Future deliveries will be fulfilled per the contract agreement, the Russians said.

The Pentagon was initially set to discuss its plan Friday morning to remove Turkey from the F-35 program, but the briefing was canceled. Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper spoke with Turkish Minister of Defence Hulusi Akar for 30 minutes on Friday, according to a Pentagon official. The details of their discussion were not provided.

The Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees issued a joint statement following the news that Turkey had taken delivery of the S-400.

"We urge President Trump to fully implement sanctions as required by law under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act," the committees said. "Additionally … we call on the Department of Defense to proceed with the termination of Turkey's participation in the F-35 program."

In May, it was reported that Turkish military personnel had begun training on the S-400 in Russia. Speaking to reporters weeks later, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord called the move to train personnel on the S-400 "disappointing."

As a result, the Defense Department outlined a list of actions the U.S. would begin taking to suspend Turkey's participation in the F-35 program starting July 31, including shelving any new training programs for Turkish personnel on the F-35 in the U.S. and canceling all Turkish Invitational Travel Orders (ITOs) and Common Access Card (CAC) access at F-35 Joint Program Office facilities.

According to a report from Foreign Policy, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where the Turkish pilots had been training, made the decision to stop before July 31 because of information-sharing concerns.

The Pentagon for months has stressed a looming compatibility issue with Turkey using a Russian-made missile system while flying the F-35, something U.S. officials perceive as a national security threat to the jet program.

"The S-400 is incompatible with the F-35," Lord said June 7. "We do not want to have the F-35 in close proximity to the S-400 over a period of time because of the [system's] ability to understand the profile" of the jet.

The Pentagon announced April 1 that it had halted shipments of F-35A stealth fighter equipment to Turkey after it refused to cancel the S-400 purchase. Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu that same month said that the S-400 procurement is a "done deal."

Despite the issues, Luke still accepted the third and fourth F-35 jets for the Turkish pilot training program at the 63rd Fighter Squadron in April. Those jets will remain at the base for the time being, a Defense Department official told Military.com on Friday.

F-35 deliveries to Turkey had been slated to occur between late summer and the end of the year.

In an effort to keep Turkey from buying Russian-made weapons, the State Department in December approved the potential sale of the Patriot missile system and related equipment to the country for $3.5 billion.

Turkey, however, has said the Patriot system is insufficient for its needs.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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