US threatens to eject Turkey from F-35 fighter jet program

The NATO ally cannot have both the Russian S-400 anti-missile defense system and America’s most advanced stealth jet, Washington says.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The United States officially informed Turkey last week that it will no longer be a welcome partner in the program producing the F-35 stealth fighter if it insists on going ahead with its purchase of advanced Russian air defense systems.

In a June 6 letter sent to his Turkish counterpart, acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said that possessing Moscow’s S-400 anti-missile batteries while also being part of the international consortium that is building – and eventually buying — America’s most advanced jet goes against U.S. and NATO interests.

Turkey was planning to purchase a total of 100 F-35A planes. It took formal possession of four jets last year, although Washington has not yet delivered them.

“While we seek to maintain our valued relationship, Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400,” Shanahan told Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.

Leaving a window open for Ankara to reconsider its purchase of Russia’s S-400 systems, the letter said that the four Turkish pilots and 38 maintenance personnel who are currently training on the F-35 in the U.S. would be asked to leave only by the end of July.

Furthermore, unless Turkey cancels its purchase of the Russian planes, by early next year the U.S. will end all its contracts with major Turkish companies that are receiving millions of dollars for building parts for the stealth fighter, Shanahan added. This includes Turkish Aerospace Industries, Roketsan and Tusas Engine Industries, among many others, marking a significant blow to Ankara’s sinking economy.

The Pentagon has already found new companies that could take their place in the supply chain, said Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord.

There was never any danger of the Turks getting their hands on secret technical information even while being part of the F-35 program, Lord noted. “We control what is downloaded from our computers,” she said. “We have shared what’s appropriate. The Turks have no critical documentation that we’re concerned about.”

In previous talks on the issue, the Trump administration offered to substitute the American Patriot air defense systems for the S-400, but President Recep Erdoğan refused the offer.

Two of the Russian systems will reportedly be delivered in the coming weeks. According to Akar, Turkish military personnel are already in Russia training on them.