The recent events in the middle-east have moved faster than lightning and by that, I don't mean the electrical form of lightning but the fighter jet. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a.k.a. "Lightning", is one of the most advanced aircraft available today, and the Turkish Air Force is slated to get 100 of the stealth fighter jets.

The problem becomes obvious after the recent coup attempt in Turkey. Even as I write this the events are still unfolding with the Turkish President Erdogan demanding the US extradite Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan blames the cleric for the attempted coup. To make matters worse, Erdogan has cut power to and closed the airspace surrounding the USAF Base at Incirlik, stopping bombing runs against ISIS. Meanwhile, Turk Secretary of Labor S├╝leyman Soylu stated on news channel Haberturk: "The US is behind this coup".

Erdogan has shown himself to be an unreliable ally at the best of times, denying the US the use of the Incirlik air base during the Iraq invasion. He also stood by and did not a thing while truckloads of oil streamed out of ISIS held Syria over the Turk border, funding the terror group with hundreds of millions of dollars of the black market oil exports that came from his country. He has only recently allowed the USAF to bomb ISIS targets in Syria but even that is under his tight grip with certain facilities off-limits to our attacks from Incirlik.

All this does not bode well for NATO, the US or the war against ISIS. The airbase at Incirlik is also home to some 60 B-61 nuclear bombs as part of a NATO deterrent. These "dial-a-yield" thermonuclear weapons can go boom with up to 340 Kilotons in explosive power, guaranteed to take the paint off your Prius at 20 miles. While the nuclear weapons are under dual US/Turkish control with split encrypted code keys and special mechanisms to disable them built in, the fact that such weaponry is there, surrounded by the Turkish military, and is enough to make one pause to consider the danger.

The Incirlik base is also home to F-15 Eagle, F-22 Raptor and other USAF aircraft making regular attack runs against ISIS targets inside Syria. Erdogan's move to declare the airspace off limits has grounded some of our most advanced aircraft involved in the fight and virtually imprisoned the USAF ground crews, pilots and others at the airbase.

The dangers of an accident are now with us in maximum force.

There is also little to doubt that encryption played a major role in the entire drama unfolding before us. First, the anti-Erdogan coup forces used encrypted end-to-end chat to plan and communicate before the actual attack took place. This is one reason why the coup itself was a total surprise to the Turkish government and caught the Obama administration off guard. This does not play well for the guys at NSA HQ in Ft. Meade, Maryland. Commercial grade encryption combined with Internet communications put the White House in the dark.

Secondly, the Turk President Erdogan used encrypted end-to-end commercial apps to communicate to his followers and to the world. This link was critical is his re-establishing power and assembling his followers to back him. Again, social media, commercial grade encryption combined to change world events.

Ironically, the coup forces neglected to shut down the Internet in Turkey and did not seize ISP sites or main communications trunks. In fact, it appears that wasn't even on the list of things to do. The lesson here is that in the 21st Century, controlling a bridge may be secondary to controlling access to social media. It proved to be part of the coup-plotters undoing.

The F-35 deal with Turkey is also an adventure into the depths of encryption. The F-35 stealth jet is a marvel made possible using a wide array of encrypted communications and sensors. The F-35 is equipped with the APG-81 active electronically scanned array (AESA) stealth radar that changes frequencies randomly over 1,000 times a second using an encrypted code key only it can read to detect the pulses. The random frequency hopping makes the F-35 radar almost impossible to intercept.

The F-35 is also equipped with the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) and can share sensor data with other F-35 jets in real time. The MADL link means that a force of F-35s can see everything each individual jet can detect. This process is called sensor fusion and means a small number of F-35s can defeat a much larger force. The MADL is not only encrypted but it too jumps through frequencies in a randomized basis, thus other jets without the code keys cannot intercept the MADL information much less try to decode it. Again, the encrypted nature of the communication, combined with the randomized frequency hopping makes the MADL data link virtually invisible.

It is exactly the advanced nature of the F-35 that makes the Turkey situation a true kettle of bad fish. The problem of selling such an advanced fighter jet to an unstable ally is compounded by the B-61 nuclear weapons and even the state of NATO itself. The Turk F-35 jets are to be equipped with the code keys and physical systems required to use the nuclear weapons stored at Incirlik as part of the NATO defense. The very fact that Turkey is part of NATO makes things more difficult because it has been seen as a stalwart ally against the Soviet Union and the new Russian Federation led by Vladimir Putin.

The lesson unlearned from the fall of the Shah of Iran now stands out so many years later. The Shah bought the F-14 Tomcat swing wing fighter from the US and was slated to buy the F-16 in the early 1980s, long before other US allies were to obtain the Viper. The Iranians are the only nation other than the US to operate the sophisticated F-14 along with its long range arsenal of AIM-54 Phoenix missiles.

The fall of the Shah allowed all that advanced fire power to fall into the hands of the Ayatollahs where it still flies alongside Chinese made interceptors today. It became very clear that besides having to face our own weapons pointed back at us we also had to deal with the fact that the Tomcat and all its electronics were compromised by Russian and Chinese engineers who took the jets apart literally days after Ayatollah Khomeini took power.

The question is: Are we prepared to repeat that mistake with a hostile Turkey?

One if by land... Two if by sea.




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