U.S. ousts Turkey from F-35 program

by WorldTribune Staff, July 19, 2019

The Trump administration ended its partnership with Turkey in the F-35 stealth fighter program after Turkey proceeded with its plan to procure a Russian-made missile defense system, the White House said.

Ankara’s continued participation in the F-35 fighter jet program is now “impossible” because of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to begin receiving parts for the Russian-made S-400 system, the White House said.

Turkey had planned to buy about 100 of the Lockheed Martin F-35s.

After days of watching Turkey unload S-400 missile components from Russian transport planes at the Murted military air base northwest of Ankara, the White House announced it could no longer keep Turkey in the F-35 program.

“Unfortunately, Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham in a statement. “The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities.”

Related: Reports: U.S. halts F-35 shipments to Turkey, April 2, 2019

President Donald Trump said he was reluctant to oust Turkey from the F-35 program, telling reporters that “it is a very tough situation that they are in, and it’s a tough situation that we have been placed in, the United States.”

Trump said Turkey turned to Russia for the S-400 because President Barack Obama had refused to sell Turkey U.S. Patriot missiles. By the time he offered the missiles, Trump said, it was too late as Turkey had already made a substantial down payment to the Russians for the S-400.

“The United States has been actively working with Turkey to provide air defense solutions to meet its legitimate air defense needs, and this administration has made multiple offers to move Turkey to the front of the line to receive the U.S. Patriot air defense system,” the White House statement said.

Turkey had planned to buy about 100 of the Lockheed Martin F-35s. Turkey’s first two jets were to have been delivered later this year. Turkish pilots who were training on the F-35 in Arizona have been ordered home.

Additionally, 10 Turkish companies were set to produce some 900 parts for the F-35. Turkey will lose some $9 billion in projected work related to the F-35 over the life of the program, the Pentagon said.

The Trump administration’s decision is separate from economic sanctions Trump might impose on Turkey through the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. “Those penalties range from limiting the size of American bank loans to Turkish entities to more severe efforts such as cutting off access to the U.S. financial system, an unlikely step that would shatter the already-fragile Turkish economy,” Tribune News Services noted in a July 18 report.

At a July 17 Pentagon briefing, Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said that while Turkey would now be excluded from further participation in the F-35 program the U.S. would seek to maintain close military ties to Turkey.

“Turkey remains a close NATO ally and our military-to-military relationship remains strong,” Lord said. “We continue to honor our commitment to ensure the safety of our NATO ally, and support missions benefiting regional security and stability.”

“Our reaction today is a specific response to a specific event. It is separate and distinct from the broader range of security interests where the United States and Turkey work together against common threats,” added David Trachtenberg, the deputy undersecretary for policy.

According to the Pentagon, Turkey will lose $1 billion that would have gone to 10 Turkish suppliers over the next year. Lord said the U.S. will have to spend between $500 million and $600 million to shift the supply chain to new partners. “We have been working since 2018 on this. We are proceeding with a very orderly wind-down through March 2020 at this point. So we expect minimal impact to the program.”

Lockheed Martin said it is still on track to deliver 131 F-35s this year. “Lockheed Martin has been partnering closely with the U.S. government and our supply chain to minimize impact to the F-35 program,” the company said in a statement. “Over the last several months we’ve been working to establish alternative sources of supply in the United States to quickly accommodate Turkey’s current contributions to the program.”

“This is a government-to-government matter, and as always, we are following official U.S. government guidance as it relates to delivery of the F-35 to Turkey and the export of goods from the Turkish supply chain,” the statement said.

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