Gen. Todd Wolters: Turkish plan to buy Russian system not ‘compatible’ with F-35 sale

April 2, 2019

Turkey cannot field the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system and expect Washington to move ahead with plans to sell it the cutting-edge U.S.-made F-35 stealth jet fighter, the Trump administration’s pick to lead U.S. forces in Europe told Congress Tuesday.

“The S-400 and the F-35 are not compatible,” Air Force Gen. Todd Wolters told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing, signaling a growing divide between the two NATO allies.

“We all understand Turkey is an important ally in the region, but it’s absolutely unsustainable to support [deploying] the F-35 and S-400” in the same theater, the four-star general told committee members. Gen. Wolters, who would replace Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti as the top American officer in Europe and NATO, testified alongside Gen. Steven Townsend who is tapped to lead U.S. Africa Command.

Gen. Wolters’ comments came a day after the Pentagon canceled shipments of critical equipment related to the sale of roughly 100 F-35 jet fighters to Ankara, in what many see as the first steps toward the outright cancellation of the massive foreign weapons sale.

U.S. and NATO officials fear the mixing of the Russian defense system and the F-35 could give Moscow critical intelligence on the new jet’s capabilities and features. Yet Ankara’s insistence on moving ahead with the S-400 is further straining relations between Turkey and Washington, already frayed over Syria, Iran, Venezuela and the treatment of the region’s Kurds.

The S-400 buy is “not the action one would expect from a [NATO] ally, and it calls a lot of things into question,” Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker said during Tuesday’s confirmation hearing.

Washington has pressed Turkey to buy the American-made Patriot missile in lieu of the S-400. Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan on Tuesday was cautiously optimistic that Ankara would end up going with the American option.

“I am very confident in the Patriot proposal that we’ve delivered to Turkey, its availability, its pricing and very importantly, the industrial participation that comes along with the Patriot system,” Mr. Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon.