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US OKs Potential Sale of Patriot Missile System to Turkey

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U.S. soldiers with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment perform maintenance on Patriot missile launchers Feb. 5, 2013, in Gaziantep, Turkey. (U.S. Army/Capt. Royal Reff)
U.S. soldiers with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment perform maintenance on Patriot missile launchers Feb. 5, 2013, in Gaziantep, Turkey. (U.S. Army/Capt. Royal Reff)

The U.S. on Tuesday approved the potential sale of the Patriot missile system and related equipment to Turkey for $3.5 billion, according to the State Department.

Should Turkey accept, pending congressional approval, it would receive 80 Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced Missiles (GEM-T), 60 PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) missiles, and related equipment for that estimated price, State Department officials said in an announcement.

The news comes as both Russia and the U.S. aim to sway Turkey to buy their surface-to-air missile batteries.

In July, the U.S. said it was still hoping to convince Turkey to buy the Patriot missile system instead of Russia's S-400, known as the "Triumf." Earlier this year, Turkey firmed up a $2.5 billion deal to purchase S-400 surface-to-air missile systems. Turkey last year verbally agreed to buy four Russian-made S-400 mobile missile batteries over the next few years. It finalized the deal in September 2017.

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The decision created agitation on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers cited it as a reason to block additional sales of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the NATO-member country in the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.

The S-400 system is known by Moscow as the "F-35 killer."

It remains uncertain whether Turkey will accept the U.S. deal. But officials such as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have stressed the S-400 will not function with other systems used by NATO.

"The problem is, how do you interoperate with NATO systems with Russians; they'll never interoperate," he told reporters last year.

The advanced "Triumf" has been spotted in Syria and can carry multiple short- to very long-range missiles with a variety of sensor systems. It has a range of 400 kilometers and is effective against stealth aircraft, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, according to the Congressional Research Service.

A State Department spokesperson on Wednesday reaffirmed a similar position in an interview with CNN: "This notification provides a NATO-interoperable alternative to the S-400: nothing more, nothing less."

"It has no connection to other policy matters," the spokesperson added. President Donald Trump spoke with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last Friday.

Reuters reported that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two transactions -- the S-400 buy and the potential Patriot purchase -- should be seen as separate from one another.

Peskov said Russia will continue processing its end of the sale, Reuters said.

Both Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co. build parts of the long-range Patriot SAM system. Officials have touted the Patriot to Turkey for years. The country expressed interest in the system after the war in Syria began in 2012.

Turkey had not ruled out purchase of the Patriot system even as the U.S. pushed a potential sale back in July, according to the Daily Sabah Diplomacy, a Turkish news site. Unidentified officials who spoke to the paper at the time said that, while no deal was in place, conversations had been held about the system. But the Patriot isn't a suitable alternative to the S-400, the officials told Daily Sabah.

Should Turkey purchase the Patriot instead of the S-400, the decision could improve its relations with U.S. lawmakers and smooth over the F-35 stealth fighter kerfuffle.

In September, Military.com learned that two F-35A Lightning IIs were still slated to be delivered to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, for the Turkish pilot training program in early 2019.

"There has been no change to our contract or our relationship with Turkey as a partner, with Turkey as a supplier. Nothing's changed," Greg Ulmer, vice president and general manager of the F-35 program at Lockheed Martin Corp, said at the time.

A Defense Department spokesman said the program of record with Turkey would continue until a joint DoD-State Department report was delivered to Congress.

Per the NDAA, Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had until mid-November to submit a report to lawmakers describing the current U.S.-Turkey relationship and whether keeping the F-35 from Turkey would hurt production, training or other partnerships.

The report sent to lawmakers said Turkey had risked expulsion from the F-35 program because of the S-400 buy, according to a report from Bloomberg last month. Whether that decision has changed and how the Pentagon intends to proceed remain unclear. The Defense Department did not return Military.com's request for comment by press time.

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

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