Turkey is ratcheting up the tension with the U.S. over the purchase of next-generation fighter jets, saying that it is putting "on hold" its purchases of F-35s because the U.S. is refusing to share with Turkey some software codes that control aspects of the plane's operations. From Today's Zaman:
Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül said on Tuesday, following a meeting of the Defense Industry Implementation Committee (SSİK), that the negotiations over the F-35 procurement tender had not yielded “satisfactory results.” He said, “We will evaluate the order in the next meeting, in light of the progress made in the talks by then.” He said much ground had been covered in the talks in terms of technology sharing, but this was not enough for Turkey to accept the jets.
An earlier story in the same newspaper explained in more detail the so-called "code crisis":
Though Ankara plans at this point to purchase around 100 of these fighter jets, there is the awareness in the Turkish capital that without the codes in question, possession of the jet planes will only be partial. There are assertions at hand that the F-35s will be controllable from outside sources, that they may be defenseless against electronic warfare and that no changes will be able to be made to their software.
An anonymous Turkish official puts the issue in stark terms:
“You cannot know what the software includes. If you enter a war with a third country in the future and if this country is allied with the US, the US may render your jets useless. A rocket launched by the enemy may not be perceived as a threat by the jets.”
This framing of the issue is interesting. Which country, one wonders, is Turkey contemplating a war against that is a U.S. ally? This sort of statement can't be comforting to those in Washington wondering how dedicated an ally Turkey is these days.
The F-35 is being produced under a somewhat unusual international format. The U.S. company Lockheed Martin is leading the effort, but it's participating with several international partners who are putting in money and producing some elements of the jets, including the U.K., the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Singapore and Israel, in addition to Turkey.
I asked aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia for his take on Turkey's complaint, and he said that Turkey is not the only country complaining about the software code issue, but that all partner countries (other than the U.S.) are being treated equally in this regard. And he noted that because of continued uncertainty over pricing, nearly all F-35 orders are on hold, so this announcement was mostly an attention-getting device:
In this context, Turkey's "on hold" pronouncement is totally meaningless, except as a tactic to get all the industrial contracts they can extract.
He also pointed out one of his earlier analysis pieces discussing Turkey's efforts to produce indigenous military aircraft, and added: "Will Turkey build its own fighter? That really depends on whether they value pilots' lives. If they really don't, then building a national fighter can be a tremendous national achievement."