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Potential Impacts of CAATSA Sanctions on the Turkish Defense & Aerospace Industry

Based on the excuse that the Turkish Air Force (TurAF)’s purchase of S-400 Triumph Air and Missile Defense System from the Russian Federation’s RosoboronExport defense industry and technology company as part of Turkey’s modern long-range air and missile defense system requirement, on December 14, 2020 the US Government (US Secretary of State) announced the imposition of sanctions on Turkey as per the CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).

Issue 104

The US Government had been conducting diplomatic negotiations for a while to dissuade Turkey regarding the purchase of the S-400 system, yet the Turkish Government did not retreat from its decision. On July 16, 2019, Turkey’s participation in the F-35 MTU/JSF Lightning II Program as a Level 3 Partner was suspended indefinitely, only four days after the launch of the delivery of the first group of equipment of the first TurAF S-400 Triumph Area Air and Missile Defense System Battery to Mürted Airfield Command (about 30km to the northwest of the capital, Ankara) and the delivery of F-35A aircraft to the TurAF was halted. In fact, the suspension of F-35A deliveries in response to Turkey’s purchase of S-400 systems had been the first signal of the US sanction imposed on Turkey under CAATSA. The call on applying CAATSA sanctions on Turkey was supported both by the Democrats and the Republicans, enacting the imposition of CAATSA for the first time upon a NATO ally.

On that note, the Presidency of the Defense Industries of the Republic of Turkey (SSB) has been targeted due to the role it played in the purchase of the S-400 Triumph System and as per Article 213 of CAATSA the decision was made to impose sanctions on the Presidency of Defense Industries and four SSB officials, including President of the SSB Prof. İsmail DEMİR, Vice President Faruk YİĞİT, Head of the Air Defense and Space Department Serhat GENÇOĞLU and Program Manager of Area Air Defense Systems Directorate Mustafa Alper DENİZ. However, since these officials are not only assigned at the SSB but also in charge of critical duties in Turkey’s leading defense industry companies (for instance, SSB’s DEMİR at STM and MilSOFT companies and Vice President of the SSB as the Chairman of the Board in Roketsan), difficulties are likely to emerge for the organizations, where these SSB officials on the list of sanctions are employed, in obtaining export licenses or renewal of the existing licenses from the US for the execution of both domestic and international projects as a result of the political and technical interpretations if the tension between the two countries grows in the future. CAATSA containing sanctions of a commercial nature that focus on legal persons is based on a rather quite political ground in addition to its technical and legal aspects. Prior to his assignment as the US Secretary of State by the new US President Joe BIDEN who took the chair on January 20, 2021, Antony BLINKEN hinted that Turkey who he defined as a “so-called strategic partner” would be subject to new S-400 sanctions while he responded to questions from senators at the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate. Responding to a question on Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 from Russia, BLINKEN said, “One of our strategic, so-called partners’ being in line with one of our greatest strategic rivals Russia is not acceptable… I believe that we initially need to observe the effects of the existing sanctions. And then we need to determine if more sanctions are required.”