The Turkish defense industry has hired one of Washington’s most prestigious law firms to try to remain in the F-35 jet fighter program after the Donald Trump administration said it would kick Turkey out two years ago over its purchase of Russian air defense systems.
Ankara-based SSTEK Savunma Sanayi Teknolojiler (Defense Industry Technologies) has hired Arnold & Porter for $750,000 for strategic advice and outreach to US commercial partners and stakeholders in the program. The contract was effective Feb. 1 and lasts six months.
SSTEK is wholly owned by the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), the government office that manages Turkey’s defense industry.
Arnold & Porter will “advise on a strategy for the SSB and Turkish contractors to remain within the Joint Strike Fighter Program, taking into consideration and addressing the complex geopolitical and commercial factors at play,” the firm’s lobbying filing states.
The firm will also “undertake a targeted outreach to the US commercial partners and stakeholders within the JSF Program to sound out and understand their interests with regard to SSB’s continued involvement as a strategic ally and valued partner in the JSF Program,” the filing states. Arnold & Porter also commits to “continually monitor export controls and trade sanctions … that may be relevant and explain any said sanctions.”
The Trump White House announced in July 2019 that it had removed Turkey from the multi-nation F-35 program, although the Pentagon has since clarified that it will continue to depend on Turkish defense contractors for key components through next year. The SSB faces its own set of challenges, with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing sanctions against the agency in December under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) over its cooperation with Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms export entity.
Arnold & Porter senior international policy adviser Miomir Zuzul, a former member of Parliament in Croatia and former ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, is registered to lobby on the contract. Joining him are firm partner Raul Herrera, a former general counsel to the Inter-American Investment Corporation, and senior counsel L. Charles Landgraf.
SSTEK and Arnold & Porter did not respond to requests for comment.
Ozgur Eksi, the founder and editor in chief of Turkish defense news publication Turdef.com, said there was little to no overlap between SSTEK’s affiliates and the F-35 program, suggesting that having the company sign the contract could be a way for the SSB to circumvent US restrictions on its activities. He said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s administration is committed to re-entering the program.
“Keeping Turkey in the program is definitely one of the priorities of the Turkish government,” Eksi said. “SSB keeps repeating that they are loyal to their international commitments.”
According to Bloomberg, 10 Turkish companies were on track to make about $12 billion in F-35 parts, including the center fuselage produced by Turkish Aerospace Industries, before the Pentagon rescinded plans to sell 100 of the fifth-generation stealth fighters to Turkey following the NATO member’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 anti-missile system, which the US says threatens NATO defenses. Turkish Aerospace Industries is separately lobbying to lift a congressional hold on its sale of attack helicopters to Pakistan.
Eksi said getting booted out of the program was a huge blow to Turkish defense contractors such as missile-maker Roketsan, which could tout its work with US defense giant Lockheed Martin on F-35 armaments to sell its wares to clients around the world.
“Roketsan was marketing its product to other candidate countries,” he said. “Once Turkey is outside [the partnership] air forces know that Rokestan will receive no further upgrades or help from the United States. So what’s the purpose of buying missiles from Turkey when Turkey’s not involved in the aircraft?”
Turkey’s removal from the program has bipartisan support in Congress, which has also pressed the executive branch to target Ankara under US sanctions against Russia over its interference in the 2016 US election and its intervention in Ukraine and Syria. Still, Eksi said Ankara saw some hope for better relations with the Joe Biden administration, pointing to a recent press briefing by US Ambassador to Turkey David Satterfield in which he told Turkish media that the US still hopes “that the issue of S-400 can be resolved.”
“The S-400 issue regrettably compelled the previous US administration to execute US law and impose sanctions under the CAATSA legislation,” Satterfield reportedly said. “But we targeted on that sanction very precisely. We did not aim at affecting the Turkish defense sector as a whole, but rather specific licenses to SSB.”
Still, Turkey’s refusal to abandon the S-400 and bipartisan US ire against Ankara make getting back into the F-35 a tough sell. In a nod to the long odds of success, the contract with Arnold & Porter specifies that the firm “does not make any promises or guarantees” about the outcome.
“If the matter does not reach a successful conclusion, for any reason, SSTEK shall still be responsible for all fees and disbursements charged by the
Firm under the terms of this Agreement.”