The United States is set to officially remove NATO-ally Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet programme. Washington has long been threatening to expel Turkey from the stealth programme deal over the purchase of S-400 Missile Defence Systems from Russia.
The first components of the S-400 air defence system were delivered to the Murted military airbase northwest of Ankara, confirming Turkey’s deal with Russia, which Washington had strived for months to block.
“The US and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the programme and initiate the process to formally remove Turkey from the programme,” said Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defence for acquisition and sustainment at the Pentagon.
Turkey’s foreign ministry said the move was unfair and could affect ties between the two nations. “We invite the US to return from this mistake which would open irreparable wounds in strategic relations,” the ministry said after the Pentagon’s announcement.
Turkey makes more than 900 parts of the F-35, she said, adding the supply chain would transition from Turkish to mainly US factories as Turkish suppliers are removed. “Turkey will certainly and regrettably lose jobs and future economic opportunities from this decision,” Lord said. “It will no longer receive more than nine billion dollars in projected work share related to the F-35 over the life of the programme.”
Earlier Washington said that Turkey’s resolution to buy the S-400 air defence system “renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible”.
“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence-collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the White House statement said, referring to the S-400 air defence system as a means for Russia to probe US capabilities.
The White House, however, sought to downplay the consequences of the decision on the US relationship with Turkey, declaring that Washington still “greatly values” its strategic alliance with Ankara.
US President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that the S-400 purchase means Turkey will not be permitted to buy any F-35 planes. But he also declined to criticise Turkey’s procurement of the Russian defence system, maintaining it’s a complex situation” and Ankara was forced into the move by his predecessor Barack Obama.