The U.S. Air Force will be able to continue to fly missions out of Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, despite ongoing turmoil following a failed coup there in Turkey last month, Air Force officials said on Wednesday.
At least in the short term, as U.S. military leaders hope to restore or create new relationships with their Turkish counterparts, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told reporters at a State of the Air Force briefing with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on Wednesday.
"Of course, it’s concerning because with so many members of the [Turkish] leadership gone, it’s going to take them time to grow new leaders and replace, so it remains to be seen what happens next," James saidAir Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told reporters at a state of the Air Force briefing with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on Wednesday.
"They obviously are our ally. We stand with them, they’re an effective air force, and Incirlik is an important location for our joint fight," she said, referencing the ongoing air war against the Islamic State, in which Incirlik plays a strategic role. The U.S. has manned and unmanned aircraft at Incirlik, which is about 100 miles from the border with Syria.
Turkey closed the airspace at Incirlik and cut power to to the base in July when a faction within the Turkish armed forces
group of Turkish soldiers took to the streets in an
attempted to overthrow
the country's p
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkey re-opened the airspace and turned the lights back on about a week later.
The relationship between Turkey and the U.S. has frayed in the aftermath of the attempted takeover. Turkey's government says Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally now living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, masterminded the attempted coup and has demanded his extradition. Washington has asked for evidence of the cleric's involvement.
Erdogan also accused Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, of "siding with coup plotters," a charge Votel denied.
Turkey re-opened airspace and turned the lights back on at Incirlik in July after hostile soldiers for a week took to the street to denounce the country's president.
"We certainly condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the attempted coup," James said
. "We’re beyond that now. Many thousands of people have been arrested and we, of course, defer to the government of Turkey as to who needs to be arrested, who needs to be punished for this action. Incirlik is a key location, Turkey overall is a very important ally."
There is another reason
For more reasons than one
that Incirlik is so crucial.
Reports suggest the air base houses roughly
61 hydrogen bombs, said Hans M. Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. The
With a missile-carrying nuclear warhead, the
tactical weapons are capable of destroying battlefield formation units at a much faster rate of speed than conventional weapons.
"They work just fine," Kristensen told Air Force Times on July 21. "But the overall weapon needs an overhaul from time to time. That cycle is coming up. The versions in Europe were produced in the 1980s," he said in an email.
"The first B61-12 will come off the production line in 2020 and probably go to Europe a couple of years later."
Out of 200 B
61s in use by the United States, 25 percent remain in Turkey, where they first appeared during the
Cold War era as a means to deter Russia.
"Geostrategically and geopolitically, [Incirlik is] an extremely important base and location, and not just now — that goes all the way back
to the Cold War ... and being a long-term NATO ally," retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Ralph Jodice, former commander of NATO Allied Air Command in Izmir, Turkey, told Air Force Times last month.
A strong military-to-military relationship allows the U.S.
not only to conduct airstrikes against ISIS, and Incirlik
remains "a key hub for airlift operations," Jodice said.
On the cusp of the Mediterranean Sea and roughly 850 miles away from Russia, Incirlik’s location is vital as a deterrent to the former Soviet Union and its ambitions in Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East and Europe for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at email@example.com.
Russia's behavior still poses risk
Goldfein added it is unsurprising that Russia has become a more capable air force in the last few years, but the intercepts of U.S. pilots in international air space, even though near Russia's borders, remains worrisome.
"For fifty years we've been intercepting each other in international airspace," said Goldfein, a former F-16 pilot said. "One might ask, 'why would we allow each other to close well-inside of the lethal radius of a missile with people in the backend of a large airplane on both sides that can't defend themselves, why in the world would we allow ourselves to do that?' It's because we've had standard rules of behavior that we've adhered to over time." said Goldfein, a former F-16 pilot.
Russian Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fighters buzzed, barrel rolled or skirted by U.S. RC-135 spy planes at least three times in 2016. Twice in April, Russian Su-24 Fencer attack aircraft flew extremely low and close by the destroyer Donald Cook in the international waters of the Baltic Sea.
"I am very concerned about recent Russian behavior on a couple of occasions where they're not showing themselves as the professional air for I've seen over the years," he said.
While Goldfein said he hasn't spoken to his Russian military counterpart, "my message is, I've seen the Russian air force in action and it's a professional force, and they're far better than that."