No stealth jets for Turkey as Trump signs defense policy blocking sale

Turkey, active in the F-35 program since 1999, was set to receive 100 of the stealth fighter planes

August 14, 2018 14:50
3 minute read.
F35 Adir fighter jet

The Lockheed Martin F35 fighter jet plane, also known as the Adir, in a test flight. (photo credit: LOCKHEED MARTIN AERONAUTICS/ LIZ LUTZ)


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US President Donald Trump signed into law a defense policy which will prohibit selling Turkey the F-35 stealth fighter jet amid increasing tensions between Washington and Ankara.

Titled the “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019,” the massive defense spending and policy bill, among other things, prohibits selling the F-35s for the next 90 days, pending a Pentagon report on the relations between Turkey and the US.

The impact assessment report is expected to focus on US military operations from Incirlik Air Base (where, among other things, it operates a tactical nuclear storage site) and assess the risks presented by Turkey purchasing the S-400 missile defense system from Russia.

The report will also study the impact of removing Turkey from the F-35 program.

In a letter to the US Senate in early July, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis opposed removing Turkey from the F-35 program in which it’s been active since 1999, saying it could cause a disruption in the jet’s supply chain and increase program costs.

As a partner nation in the F-35 program, Turkey invested over $1 billion on the jet. Several local companies produce components for the aircraft, including fuselages and cockpit screens, such as Alp Aviation, AYESAS, Kale Aviation, Kale Pratt & Whitney and Turkish Aerospace Industries.

Despite opposition from US lawmakers, Turkey received its first pair of a projected 100 F-35 fighters in June.

But they remain in the United States, where Turkish pilots are being trained and are not due to land in Turkey before September 2019.
Erdogan accuses the U.S. of a 'stab in the back' (Reuters)

The deterioration of ties between Ankara and Washington led US lawmakers to voice concern that if Russia provides the S-400 to Turkey while it flies the F-35, the capabilities and vulnerabilities of the jet could potentially be conveyed to Russia, compromising it.

Last month, Commander of US Air Forces in Europe General Tod Wolters told Reuters the purchase of the S-400 by Turkey – a NATO ally – was worrisome.

“Anything that an S-400 can do that affords it the ability to better understand a capability like the F-35 is certainly not to the advantage of the coalition,” he said.

Built by Lockheed Martin, the jets have an extremely low radar signature, allowing the jet to operate undetected deep inside enemy territory, as well as evade advanced missile defense systems like the S-300 and S-400 systems.

Israel, which also has fragile relations with Turkey, currently has 12 F-35 Adir aircraft and is expected to receive a total of 50 planes to make two full squadrons by 2024.

In December, Israel became the first air force outside the United States to declare the jet’s operational capability.

In May, IAF Chief Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin announced the air force had struck targets in the Middle East with the F-35 Adir jet twice, making it the first country in the region to use the stealth fighter in combat.

But the already fragile relations between Israel and Turkey have been increasingly strained in recent months as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, a vocal critic of Israel's policy toward the Palestinians, has intensified his rhetoric.

Last month, Commander of US Air Forces in Europe General Tod Wolters told Reuters the purchase of the S-400 by Turkey – a NATO ally – was worrisome.

Israeli officials have voiced concern over Turkey’s jet purchase, with one senior defense official quoted by Haaretz as saying Israel would prefer to be the only country in the Middle East with the F-35 to keep its qualitative military edge, and out of fears the jet’s capabilities would be leaked to enemy countries.

Israel has already quietly tested ways to defeat the advanced Russian air defense system, by participating in several joint drills between the Greek and Israeli air forces over Crete, where one system is stationed. The drills have allowed Israeli warplanes to gather data on how the advanced system may be blinded or fooled.

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