A US Senate committee has passed a defense policy bill that bars the sale of advanced F-35 warplanes to NATO partner Turkey, faulting Ankara for its purchase of an air defense system from Russia.
The amendment to the $716 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed on Thursday, was proposed by Democratic Senator from Michigan Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Senator for North Carolina Thom Tillis.
It removed Turkey from the F-35 program over its S-400 purchase from Russia as well as imprisonment of an American Christian pastor in Turkey on spying and terrorism charges.
Shaheen’s office stated that Ankara’s intention to buy the Russian surface-to-air missile batteries was “sanctionable” under US law.
“There is tremendous hesitancy (about) transferring sensitive F-35 planes and technology to a nation who has purchased a Russian air defense system designed to shoot these very planes down,” said the Michigan senator.
The NDAA, according to the report, is several steps from becoming law.
The US House of Representatives passed its version of the bill earlier on Thursday, but the Senate must also pass its own version of the bill before engaging to reconcile the two versions to come up with a final compromise legislation for a vote in both houses of the Congress later this year.
Turkey has said the S-400 system would boost its defense capabilities in the face of threats from Kurdish and Daesh-linked militants as well as conflicts across its borders in neighboring Syria and Iraq.
Ankara has also vowed to take retaliatory measures in case Washington enacts a law blocking weapons sales to Turkey, a key partner in the US-led NATO military alliance.
Turkey intends to purchase more than 100 F-35 jet fighters, and has had talks with US officials about the likely purchase of Patriot anti-air missiles as well.
Ankara’s move to purchase S-400s — deemed incompatible with the NATO systems — has also unnerved some other NATO member nations, prompting NATO officials to warn Turkey of unspecified consequences.
US-Turkey ties have been seriously on the decline in recent months over a host of issues, including Washington’s policy of backing Kurdish militants in Syria and a number of legal cases against Turkish and American nationals being held in the two countries.
Earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned in an interview that Ankara would retaliate against the US if Washington halted its weapons sales to Ankara.
Cavusoglu described any moves by US lawmakers to block arms sales to his country as wrong, illogical, and not fitting of the alliance between the two NATO allies.
Israel is the only regime in the Middle East to which the United States has sold F-35 jets. Tel Aviv said earlier this week that its military was the first to use the stealth aircraft in combat operations over Syria and Lebanon.
Israel began receiving the fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter from the United States in December 2016. The aircraft were declared operational approximately a year later.
“We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity,” Israeli air force commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin boasted during a recent conference.