Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

After Rupture with U.S., Turkey Looks to Russia for Fighter Jets

Ankara may buy Moscow’s most advanced Su-57 after its expulsion from the F-35 program.

Russian Sukhoi Su-35 and Su-34 military aircrafts fly above the Ivan the Great Bell Tower during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow on May 4, 2017. (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian Sukhoi Su-35 and Su-34 military aircrafts fly above the Ivan the Great Bell Tower during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow on May 4, 2017. (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images)

What’s on tap today: Turkey may buy advanced Russian fighter jets after being unceremoniously booted from the F-35 program, the United States is preparing to send hundreds of troops to Saudi Arabia amid tensions with Iran, and North Korea’s former chief nuclear negotiator is still alive.

What’s on tap today: Turkey may buy advanced Russian fighter jets after being unceremoniously booted from the F-35 program, the United States is preparing to send hundreds of troops to Saudi Arabia amid tensions with Iran, and North Korea’s former chief nuclear negotiator is still alive.

U.S. Cancels Turkey’s F-35s

Officially out. The Pentagon has finally kicked Turkey out of the F-35 fighter jet program in response to Ankara’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system, following through on a threat it had been making for months. The move, which U.S. officials said was backed by all of the F-35 partners, means Turkey will not get any of the 100 planes it planned to buy—including four it has already paid for—and that all Turkish personnel associated with the program must depart the United States.

The price tag. Booting Ankara from the program will cost Turkish industry $9 billion in projected work, Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, told reporters Wednesday in a rare on-camera press briefing. But the decision also comes with a price tag for the United States. Washington will spend between $500 million and $600 million to shift the supply chain from Turkey elsewhere, Lord said.

Russia steps in. The bigger problem for Washington—and NATO—is that the rupture pushes Ankara ever closer to Moscow.

Russia has offered to sell Turkey its Su-35 Flanker as well as its most advanced—though troubled—Su-57. Experts have long debated which of the stealth fighters would win in a fight, the F-35 or the Russian jets. If it comes down to a close-in dogfight, the more maneuverable Russian jets would likely get the first kill. But the F-35 was designed with state-of-the-art sensors and cutting-edge stealth so that it can sneak up on an opponent long before it knows it’s there.

Either way, the possibility that Ankara could soon operate advanced Russian jets is sure to raise red flags at the Pentagon and in Brussels. Russian Flankers have been harassing U.S. jets in Syria for years, as well as collecting intelligence on America’s premier dogfighter, the F-22. A Turkish fleet of Su-35 or Su-57 jets would seriously complicate operations in Syria and NATO exercises over Europe.

Turkey’s side of the story. Although Washington and NATO condemned the arrival of the Russian S-400 on Turkish soil last week, it has been a long time coming. Turkish journalist Ragıp Soylu‏ explains that the dispute began in 2015 when the United States failed to come to Turkey’s defense after it downed a Russian jet for violating its airspace.

Soon after, Germany and Luxembourg declared that Turkey could not count on NATO support if a conflict breaks out with Russia in Syria. Washington made things worse, of course, by arming Syrian Kurdish fighters—which Turkey views as terrorists—in Syria.

How did we get here? The key point is that Washington did not raise any concerns about the S-400 purchase, which had been in the works since the 2016 coup attempt, until November 2017. “No genuine effort shown by both sides to resolve the S-400 crisis. Both thought the other was bluffing,” Soylu writes.

Latest Iran Standoff

Troop deployment. The United States is sending around 500 troops to Saudi Arabia as a message to Iran amid persistent tensions over American sanctions and Iranian harassment of oil tankers. The American troops are expected to be deployed to an airfield east of Riyadh, where the U.S. military is hoping to eventually fly the F-22 stealth fighter jet, CNN reports.

Seized tankers. Iranian state television said the country’s Revolutionary Guards forces seized a foreign oil tanker and accused it of smuggling oil, but the identity of the tanker remains unclear.

The report comes on the heels of Iran announcing that its security services had assisted the oil tanker Riah after it broke down in the Strait of Hormuz and towed it toward Iranian waters to carry out repairs. The tanker, which had been bound for the United Arab Emirates, stopped broadcasting its location over the weekend, and concern had been mounting that the ship had been seized in possible retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian vessel.

The exact fate of the ship remains unclear. U.S. and Emirati officials tell the Washington Post that they did not detect a distress call from the ship, and Iranian officials say they plan to release additional information about the vessel’s status.

The emissary. Sen. Rand Paul convinced President Donald Trump to let the Kentucky Republican serve as a go-between with Iran in an attempt to ease tensions between Washington and Tehran, Politico reports. Paul pitched Trump on the idea last weekend, and Trump signed off on Paul starting talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, whose government has said it won’t sit down with U.S. representatives until sanctions on the country are lifted.

IAEA needs a new leader. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which plays a key role in monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, is looking for a new head, as its current director, Yukiya Amano, plans to step down due to health concerns.

What We’re Watching 

F-35 falls short. Mark Esper, who has been nominated as the next Secretary of Defense, revealed in written answers as part of his nomination that the F-35 stealth fighter jet is not expected to meet its 80 percent readiness goal due to a shortage in canopies, Breaking Defense reports.

Trade war. Trade negotiations between Beijing and Washington appear to have stalled again, as negotiators have deadlocked over the extent to which the United States should ease its restrictions on Chinese tech giant Huawei, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Not so special ops. Bomb disposal technicians and infantry deployed in support of U.S. Special Operations lack essential equipment and training needed to fight alongside elite units, according to a New York Times investigation.

Troops to the border. The Pentagon is deploying an additional 2,000 U.S. soldiers to the U.S.-Mexico border, where they will provide support to Customs and Border Patrol operations.

Still kicking. North Korea’s former chief nuclear negotiator is still alive, according to a South Korean lawmaker briefed by his country’s intelligence agency. His statement contradicts earlier reports that Kim Hyok Chol, who led the North Korean delegation in the run-up to the failed Hanoi summit, had been executed, Reuters reports.

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Around Washington

Another anti-Saudi vote. The U.S. House of Representatives voted again to block the sale of military hardware to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a rebuke of the two countries over their human rights record that is likely to be vetoed by the White House.

Local politics. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reignited speculation that he may run for an open Senate seat in his home state of Kansas after saying in an interview that he’ll “always leave open the possibility that something will change,” Politico reports.

Foggy Bottom dust-up. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Andrea Thompson was sidelined from attending a meeting with her Russian counterparts to discuss arms-control issues after it was revealed that she failed to disclose her ties to the boyfriend of Maria Butina, who attempted to infiltrate U.S. conservative political circles as a Russian agent, according to Politico.

Technology & Cyber 

Cloud contracts. After a federal court cleared the way for the Pentagon to award a $10 billion cloud computing contract to either Amazon or Microsoft, President Donald Trump asked for his aides to give him more information about the contract to consider whether he should intervene on the issue, Bloomberg reports.

Targeting. Foreign hackers continue to target American political groups, with Microsoft issuing more than 740 notifications to political parties, campaigns, and NGOs that they had been targeted by hackers working on behalf of a foreign country, CNN reports.

Arrest. Authorities in Ukraine arrested a computer hacker wanted by the United States, and said that they had discovered computer infrastructure under the control of Russian security services.

Money-maker. The FBI released the master decryption keys for the Gandcrab Ransomware, whose authors say they have gone into retirement after netting $150 million dollars from their criminal scheme.

Quote of the Week 

Afghanistan. “Sometimes we run out of bullets and the enemy kills us like sheep.”

Sgt. Musa Khan, a 30-year-old member of the Afghan National Police, describes the challenges faced by his country’s police force, which has faced staggering losses in the ongoing conflict with the Taliban. 

FP Recommends 

Unreality. The scholars Ethan Zuckerman and Masha Gessen are two of the foremost thinkers about media, disinformation, and the information economy. In an edited transcript of a conversation published in the Journal of Design and Science, they reflect on unreality, social corrosion, and our current media environment.

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 Twitter: @EliasGroll

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

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