Turkey received two new F-35 fighter jets on yesterday.
These two are the first of a projected 100-strong fleet that will be sent to Turkey.
That may or may not be that interesting to you.
But it’s important, and here’s why.
These jets are being delivered to Turkey, a Muslim nation with an increasingly dictatorial ruler, against the wishes of the US Congress.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 85-10 to block the sale of these jets to the Turkish. The Senate made that vote because the Turks have signed a deal with the Russians to buy an advanced anti-aircraft system called the S-400.
The S-400 is designed to target stealth planes like the F-35. If we sell the Turkish our advanced stealth fighter craft, we may be potentially handing the technology over to the Kremlin. There are growing concerns among NATO commanders that the Turkish are not buying these technologies in good faith.
A Turkish S-400 radar could reveal vulnerabilities in the F-35 that the Turks might then sell to Russia.
But not sending the jet over to Turkey has it’s share of issues too. If the US kicks Turkey, long our ally and a part of NATO, out of the F-35 program, it sends a message that we don’t trust the Turkish with our newest military hardware.
But maybe we shouldn’t trust Turkey. The Turkey that allied itself with the US during the heyday of NATO was a very different nation than the Turkey that now hunches between Russia and Europe proper. Turkey has always been the odd man out, neither fully eastern nor fully western. In recent years, under “President” (actually a brutal dictator) Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has more or less completely refused to cooperate militarily with its supposed “allies” in NATO.
So in the coming years, they may choose to align themselves with other, geographically closer powers. Their purchasing a Russian anti-air missile system designed to shoot down the planes their allies fly is certainly suspicious, to say the least.
And when it comes to the F-35, the US already has had serious data-breaches in the past. Our “next-generation” fighter has had a long, expensive, and controversial development process. The Chinese, for example, stole F-35 design docs from Lockheed in 2009.
They used that stolen tech to build a copy of the F-35 for their own use, called the Shenyang J-31. Among defense experts, it’s believed to be almost a 1-1 copy of the F-35.
So the story goes like this: America spends more than a decade, and billions of our taxpayer dollars, to develop a fancy new jet.
The Chinese steal and copy it.
The Turks, who are projected to buy 100 of the damn things, buy a new missile platform designed to shoot it down.
Can we trust the Turkish not to do the same thing the Chinese did and simply copy the designs to build their own version? If they’re operating the F-35 and the Russian S-400 air defense system side by side, the secret tech that makes the F-35 a valuable weapons system will be completely exposed, and potentially could be passed on to the Russians.
Some may think that’s unlikely. But Ankara has drawn closer and closer to Moscow over the last several years. Putin and Erdogan are now closer diplomatically than Trump and Erdogan.
Who’s the say the Turks won’t try to buy their way into an alliance with Russia by selling them the key to unlock our most potent new defenses?