Why Turkey’s Expulsion From F-35 Fighter Jet Program Could Cost The US Dearly?

As Turkey formally leaves the F-35 fighter jet program following US sanctions, its contribution to cheaper product parts will also cease to exist. This will shoot up the overall cost of the fighter jet, the US’ most expensive weapons program to date.  

Matthew Bromberg, the head of the military engines division of Pratt & Whitney, the contractor for the F135 engine for Lockheed Martin F-35 jets, has said that the cost of the engine is bound to increase by 3% as a result of Turkey’s exit, Defense News reported. 

“[Turkish products] are some of the most critical parts of the engine, and the Turkey suppliers were high-quality low cost,” Bromberg said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on April 22.

The price jump will also add to the monetary woes of the F-35 program. This week, two American Congressmen had expressed their unwillingness to fund extra jets due to past budgetary overshooting. The lack of funding has also led to a “strategic pause” of the development of the F-35′s logistics system.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is an American fifth-generation single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighter jet. The jet is part of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, a US-led initiative to replace old models of attack aircraft. Turkey, a NATO member, used to be a part of this program. 

But Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system put it in America’s bad books. The US fears that Moscow would be able to gain insights and use its system against the F-35 if Turkey integrates both Russian and American systems. 

Earlier this week, the US Department of Defense notified Turkey of its exclusion from the F-35 program after a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the other eight program members. 

“Our position has not changed. The S-400 is incompatible with the F-35 and Turkey has been suspended from the program. We continue to move forward with the process of formally removing Turkey from the F-35 partnership, as announced in July 2019,” US Defense Department spokesperson Jessica Maxwell said.

Earlier on Thursday, the Turkish news agency Anadolu Agency reported that Washington abrogated the F-35 deal with Ankara while concluding a new deal with other program participants – Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom.

The formal process of removal occurred this week but the plan had been underway since July 2019 when Turkey accepted the first of four missile batteries. Last year in December, Trump finally placed sanctions on Turkey for signing a multi-billion dollar contract with Russia.

While Turkey has been formally removed, the supply of engine parts will continue till 2022, in line with the contract signed with Turkish suppliers.

At present, 188 of about 3,000 engine part types are provided by Turkey. Approximately 75% of the parts have already been qualified, and the rest are expected to qualify by the end of this year. 

Alongside engine parts, Turkey also produced 817 of the jet’s approximately 24,000 airframe part types. Turkey was also assigned to manufacture the jet’s engine propulsion system including electronic wiring harnesses, compressor rotor hubs, bracket assemblies for harnesses, as well as seals for an air turbine. These tasks will also continue till the various contracts end in 2022.

The loss of Turkish suppliers might exacerbate an already ongoing engine shortage that had earlier been hit by the COVID-19 crisis.