Russia would be Turkey’s ‘first best choice’ if F-35 doesn’t pan out

If U.S. officials were to expel Turkey from the multinational group that builds the F-35 Lightning II, Turkish defense officials said they likely would pursue Russian fighter jet technology.

“We cannot afford to leave the F-35 not substituted,” a senior military officer told Defense news. He declined to comment on the replacement options, as this would require “technological, economical and political deliberations.”

But a defense procurement official said “geostrategic assessment” would make Russian options emerge as the natural first replacement. “Russian fighter technology would the first best choice if our American allies behaved in an un-allied way and questioned Turkey’s membership in the Joint Strike Fighter program,” he said.

Washington has threatened to expel Ankara from the multinational program if Turkey deploys the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system on its soil.

If Turkey accepts the S-400, “no F-35s will ever reach Turkish soil. And Turkish participation in the F-35 program, including manufacturing parts, repairing and servicing the fighters, will be terminated, taking Turkish companies out of the manufacturing and supply chain for the program,” wrote a group of bipartisan lawmakers from the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee.