WASHINGTON — The U.S. will sever its relationship with Turkey receiving the advanced F-35 fighter on July 31 — including sending Turkish pilots now in the U.S. training on the fighter home — unless Ankara ends its purchase of a Russian anti-missile system.
Turkey shows no signs of changing its mind about the purchase and installation of the S-400 system.
Turkey still has time to take steps to remain in the F-35 program, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe/NATO Andrew Winternitz told Pentagon reporters on Friday.
“None of the steps we are taking are irreversible,” Lord said. She said the U.S. is pursuing an “orderly, respectable and deliberate” process to extract Turkey — a member of NATO — from the multi-national F-35 program.
As part of the “unwind” of Turkey from the F-35 program, Lord said Ankara will not be invited to a Wednesday roundtable that will review updates and progress with the F-35.
That said, all F-35 participation with Turkey will end July 31 — even if Ankara has not installed the Russian system, Lord said.
More problematic is Turkey’s deep role in the F-35 program. Lord said Turkish firms make 937 parts for the F-35s, of which 400 are sole source — meaning they are the only supplier. Those parts range from landing gear to central fuselages, she said.
Lord said alternative suppliers are already being located and she expects “no major disruption” to the program. She said the program will continue to use Turkish parts until mid-2020.
The Pentagon fears that sophisticated Russian S-400 anti-missile system radar will be able to pierce some of the technology that gives the F-35 protections and advantages in combat and on missions. For example, the S-400 missile system could gather technical data on the F-35 and pass that information to Moscow — either directly from Turkey or via weaknesses captured by the Russian software.
Lord did not answer the question of what other U.S. weapons systems could be exposed by the S-400.
The U.S. has tried to convince Turkey to purchase the U.S. Patriot anti-missile system instead of the S-400, a proposal Turkey has rejected.
According to news reports, Turkish personnel are in Russia training on the S-400 system. The system is to be shipped and made operable in Turkey later this year.
Turkey has purchased four F-35 fighters. Lord said the Pentagon is still trying to decide what to do with them.
The planes are at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where four Turkish pilots are training on them. Two additional Turkish pilots are at the base as instructors, along with 20 Turkish aircraft maintainers being trained, the Pentagon has said previously.
Turkey planned to buy 100 F-35 fighter at a total price of $9 billion at current exchange rates.
Winternitz said the U.S. still plans to participate in the Anatolian Eagle air force exercise hosted by the Turkish air force. He said U.S. F-5 fighters will be part of that exercise.
However, he said U.S. participation in future exercises once the S-400 system is installed and working is uncertain.