Lockheed sticks to plan on controversial F-35 delivery to Turkey
A ceremony celebrating the first F-35 produced by Lockheed Martin for Turkey is expected to be held on June 21, 2018, in Fort Worth, Texas (U.S). Despite the recent protests by the U.S. Congress, the manufacturer did not modify its initial delivery schedule.
“The F-35 program traditionally hosts a ceremony to recognize every U.S. and international customer’s first aircraft,” a representative from Lockheed Martin told DefenseNews. The plane should roll out of the final assembly line to be presented to officials, before heading to Luke Air Force Base (LUF), where Turkish pilots will be trained for about a year.
Opposition to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan suspects the date of the F-35 ceremony to be concurring with the Turkish presidential elections that will be held on June 24, 2018. The Defense Industries undersecretariat denied those allegations, arguing the ceremony date was decided as early as October 2017, while the elections date was set on April 18, 2018.
But the last stage of Turkey’s procurement could be compromized. On June 5, 2018, a committee report on the National Defense authorization act for fiscal year 2019 - which is yet to be enacted by the U.S. Senate - asks for Turkey to be removed from the F-35 program.
One of the concerns is the contract that Turkey, a NATO member, signed with Russia in December 2017 for two S-400 Triumph missiles batteries. That acquisition surprised many NATO partners, as the anti-missile and anti-air system has no interoperability with other NATO systems. On June 13, Erdogan reaffirmed the determination of acquiring the S-400s and even revealed an offer from Turkey to Russia for the co-production of the next missile system, named S-500 Prometeï.
The Senate fears Turkey could communicate critical specifications of the F-35 to Russia if the fighter was to be delivered. “Any effort by the Government of the Republic of Turkey to further enhance their relationship with Russia will degrade the general security of the NATO alliance,” says the bill.
In 2002, Turkey was the seventh country to enter the Joint Strike Fighter program, as a level 3 partner. It has since invested more than $200 million in the project. Several Turkish companies have taken part, with Turkish Aerospace Industries being the supplier of Northrop Grumman for the weapon bay doors of the F-35. The U.S. committee asked for the Defense department to issue a report before February 1, 2019, weighing the effect of Turkey’s removal from the program on the F-35 production.
But the propositions from both chambers of the U.S. Congress have yet to be merged into one single bill, which could take months.
Turkey has already ordered six aircraft (two in 2014 and six in 2016), with a goal of eventually acquiring 100 aircraft of the F-35A variant, as well as some F-35Bs to equip its two future aircraft carriers, the TCG Anadolu and another one that could be built over the next decade. Contrary to the F-35A, the F-35B is capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), making it especially efficient on an aircraft carrier.
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