ANKARA --- Installation of a Russian-bought missile defense system in Turkey will begin a year from now, in October 2019, according to the Turkish defense minister.
“As of October 2019, installation operations will begin” for the Russian S-400 system, Hulusi Akar told Anadolu Agency on Thursday.
“Currently, we are in process of selecting personnel. The selected personnel will be sent for training in Russia from the beginning of 2019,” Akar said. “They will get the necessary training there and then they will come back for duty.”
Last December, Turkey announced it had concluded an agreement with Russia to buy two S-400 systems by early 2020. This April both parties agreed on early delivery of the systems.
The S-400 is Russia's most advanced long-range anti-aircraft missile system, with the ability to carry three types of missiles capable of destroying targets, including ballistic and cruise missiles.
Akar gave no details about where the Russian system will be established, saying the decision is still ongoing by the Turkish Air Forces Command.
In June, the U.S. Senate passed a bill prohibiting sales to Turkey of F-35 jets, citing the S-400 purchase as well as Turkey’s detention of U.S. citizens.
Saying that the anti-aircraft missile system will be used independently from NATO systems, Akar said: “We find U.S. and NATO concerns [about the S-400] irrelevant.”
“We never allow any interference in U.S. or NATO systems,” he said, adding “this was not a matter of preference [but] it was a necessity.”
Akar said that Turkey wants to also be a producer, not just a buyer, of these systems, stressing that it will continue working on projects that incorporate Turkish collaboration in production.
US F-35 jets
On the delivery of the U.S. F-35 fighter jets, Akar said: “We do not expect any negativity on this issue.”
"Two F-35s were delivered to us in June,” at a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, he said, telling how two Turkish pilots went to the U.S. to train on the new jets.
Akar said that when the F-35 jets are brought to Turkey, they will be deployed in the central Anatolian province of Malatya. “Extensive infrastructure work in the area is continuing,” he said.
“There are no bumps in the project, it continues as planned,” he said. “The third and fourth jets will be delivered next March.”
In the years to come, Ankara plans to acquire 100 F-35 fighter jets.
Earlier this month, U.S. Vice Admiral Mat Winter, executive officer for the F-35 program, addressed a legal provision banning F-35 sales to Turkey until a report on Turkish-American relations is issued.
“The Pentagon must submit a report to Congress within 90 days of the 2019 Defense Authorization Act being enacted," he said.
The F-35, a stealth jet built by Lockheed Martin, is considered one of the most expensive pieces of U.S. military equipment, with an average cost of around $100 million.
Turkey has been in the F-35 program since 1999. The Turkish defense industry has taken an active role in their production, including Alp Aviation, AYESAS, Kale Aviation, Kale Pratt & Whitney, and Turkish Aerospace Industries making parts for the first F-35 fighter jet.