The system is an upgrade to the S-300, which Syria recently purchased, with potential clients such as India and Turkey.
“If you have a customer and that customer is making payments like clockwork, how can you not give that customer their goods? The name of that would be robbery,” the national Hurriyet newspaper quoted Erdogan as saying on Thursday, as Turkey faces potential US sanctions over its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system.
He said that Turkey had so far paid $1.4bn for the F-35s and that four jets had been handed over, with Turkish pilots going to the US for training.
“We have made an agreement to buy 116 F-35s. We are not just a market, we are also joint producers. We produce some of the parts in Turkey,” he added.
The planes are currently in the US and some of the training the Turkish pilots were offered has been halted due to the strain between the allies.
After meeting US President Donald Trump last weekend in Japan on the sidelines of the G20 summit, Erdogan said Ankara would be spared damaging Washington sanctions once Russia’s S-400 air defence system started arriving in Turkey in the coming days.
However, US government officials told the Reuters news agency that the administration intends to impose sanctions on Turkey and pull it from the F-35 fighter jet programme if it takes delivery of the Russian S-400 system as expected.
“The United States has consistently and clearly stated that Turkey will face very real and negative consequences if it proceeds with its S-400 acquisition, including suspension of procurement and industrial participation in the F-35 programme and exposure to sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act [CAATSA],” a State Department spokesperson said.
Turkey’s S-400 purchase has raised eyebrows among Turkey’s NATO allies and provoked anger in Washington, which expected Ankara to opt for the US Patriot air defence system instead. Ankara says the offer was late and Russia’s S-400 deal is far better than the US offer.
Speaking in Japan last week, Trump blamed former President Barack Obama‘s administration for failing to help Turkey acquire the US alternative to the S-400s system.
“He got treated very unfairly,” Trump said.
If the US removes Turkey from the F-35 programme and imposes sanctions on the NATO ally, it would be one of the most significant ruptures in recent history in the relationship between the two nations.
Trump, who has shown a rapport with Erdogan, could still try to change course by seeking to issue a waiver and postpone sanctions. Such a move would please Ankara but upset some of Trump’s domestic allies in the US Congress.