Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar downplays concerns over his country's intention to utilize its highly advanced Russian-built S-400 air defense systems, saying Ankara will use the armament just as other members of the NATO military alliance employ their S-300 defense systems.
“Just as the S-300 [missile defense] system, which exists in some NATO member states, is used in the alliance, the S-400 system will also be used [in Turkey] in the same way,” Akar told members of the Turkish parliament's Planning and Budget Committee on Thursday.
Akar noted that Turkey would continue on the control and preparation process of the S-400 system "as planned."
He then called on the United States to form a joint working group on the compatibility of the S-400 system and F-35 stealth fighter jets.
“We're ready to discuss the technical concerns of the US on the compatibility of S-400s and F-35s,” the Turkish defense chief pointed out.
Back on October 22, Akar told Bloomberg television news network that Turkey will use S-400 anti-aircraft weapon systems as a stand-alone weapon just like what Greece is doing with its Russian-built S-300 systems.
He added that Greece has the Russian S-300s in its inventory, along with some other NATO countries that use Russian-made weapons.
Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads over Turkey's purchase of the S-400 systems, which the United States says are not compatible with NATO defenses and pose a threat to Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets.
Back in April 2018, Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said in Ankara that they had agreed to expedite the delivery of the S-400. At the time, it was said that the delivery could be made between late 2019 and early 2020.
The United States is categorically against Turkey’s purchase and suspended Turkey’s participation in the joint production of the fifth generation F-35 fighters.
The S-400 is an advanced Russian missile defense system designed to detect, track, and destroy planes, drones, or missiles as far as 402 kilometers away. It has previously been sold only to China and India.
Ankara is striving to boost its air defense, particularly after Washington decided in 2015 to withdraw its Patriot surface-to-air missile system from Turkish border with Syria, a move that weakened Turkey’s air defense.
Before gravitating towards Russia, the Turkish military reportedly walked out of a $3.4-billion contract for a similar Chinese system. The withdrawal took place under purported pressure from Washington.