Turkey Hints at Cutting Off Access to Incirlik if US Is 'Hostile' over S-400 Purchase

Three U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs taxi along the flightline on July 15 at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. (US Air Force photo/Kristan Campbell)
Three U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs taxi along the flightline on July 15 at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. (US Air Force photo/Kristan Campbell)

Turkey's minister of foreign affairs spoke out against the United States' decision to remove the NATO ally from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, as well as the looming possibility the Trump administration could impose sanctions on the country.

"If the U.S. shows a hostile attitude to us, we will take a step against it," Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told Turkish TV station TGRT Haber on Monday.

That could mean curtailing operations or expelling U.S. forces at Incirlik Air Base, or limiting coalition operations at Kürecik radar station, he said. His comments about the bases were first reported by Stars and Stripes.

Incirlik has played a key role in air operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In 2016, the base went dark for roughly a week during a failed coup attempt in the country.

While Çavuşoğlu was not immediately clear on Turkey's path forward at Incirlik or Kürecik, his comments come after the Trump administration confirmed last week that Turkey will be removed from the F-35 program after it began accepting deliveries of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system, which Moscow calls the "F-35 killer."

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While President Donald Trump called it "a very tough situation," he said sales of the stealth jet to Turkey would no longer be an option due to its pursuit of the S-400.

Following the White House's announcement, the Pentagon last week said it will cost $500 million to $600 million to find new suppliers for the stealth jet fighter parts currently produced by Turkey.

Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord and Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy David Trachtenberg told reporters during a briefing last week that the U.S. will spend that much "in non-recurring engineering in order to shift the supply chain" as Turkey "unwinds" from the program by March 2020.

But U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility that an F-35 belonging to another country -- likely the U.S. -- might one day operate in Turkey and in proximity to the S-400, even though the U.S. has deemed the combination a national security threat.

"I don't want to potentially tie, right now, a blanket operational assessment with a technological assessment," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein recently told Defense News.

Replying to the question, "Does this mean you're never going to fly F-35s in Turkey?" Goldfein said, "I can't commit that because I don't have an assessment of the threat and where it is in real time. And I'm going to make a decision in real time, as I do every other time."

Turkey's decision to buy the S-400 has been in the works for years. In 2017, it firmed up a verbal agreement with Russia to purchase the S-400, known as the "Triumf." Since then, Pentagon leaders, lawmakers and State Department officials have raised concerns over the vulnerabilities posed should Turkey operate the F-35 and S-400 simultaneously.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, former program executive officer (PEO) for the F-35 program, agreed with the administration that Turkey needs to exit the program to protect the integrity and security of the F-35.

"The S-400 system and the F-35 are not compatible, and there's too much at stake with the F-35 for the U.S. government not to do something about it," he said during a recent interview with Military.com.

Bogdan was the Joint Program Office chief between 2012 and 2017.

"When I was the PEO, we saw this coming. And the previous administration had discussed it and, diplomatically and politically, they tried hard to avoid it," he said last week. "And I don't know about this administration and what it's done to try and avoid it. But now we're ... faced with a very tough decision."

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

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