US plots Turkey’s F-35 exit over Russian S-400 row

Hemanth Kumar and Talal Husseini 11 June 2019 (Last Updated June 11th, 2019 11:29)

The US Department of Defence (DoD) has outlined plans to make Turkey's F-35 programme exit as smooth and orderly as possible, should the Eurasian nation buy Russia's S-400 air defence system.

US plots Turkey’s F-35 exit over Russian S-400 row
A US F-35A Lightning II aircraft over the north-west coast of Florida, US. Credit: USAF / Master Sgt John R Nimmo Sr / RELEASED.

The US Department of Defence (DoD) has outlined plans to make Turkey’s F-35 programme exit as smooth and orderly as possible, should the Eurasian nation buy Russia’s S-400 air defence system.

The plans were unveiled during a DoD press briefing on Turkey’s Participation in the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter programme.

Speaking to journalists, US Defense Acquisition and Sustainment Under Secretary Ellen Lord reiterated the government’s stance that it will not sell the F-35 to Turkey if it takes delivery of the Russian S-400 air defence system.

The US has repeatedly expressed concerns over Turkey’s plans to buy the defence system from Russia, stating the incompatibility between the two platforms.

Lord said: “We do not want to have the F-35 in close proximity to the S-400 over a period of time because of the ability to understand the profile of the F-35 on that particular piece of equipment.”

Recently, four US senators introduced a bill seeking to halt the transfer of the fighter jets to Turkey over the issue.

The government has now set 31 July as the deadline for Turkish personnel associated with the F-35 programme to leave the US, leaving the door open for Ankara to reverse its S-400 plans and agree to the US terms.

This means if Washington and Ankara fail to reach an amicable agreement over the S-400 issue, Turkish F-35 students and instructor pilots will be forced to depart the US.

To ensure Turkey’s potential exit does not significantly affect the F-35 programme, the US will transition Ankara’s workshare to alternative sources.

“These actions are intended to mediate risks posed by the S-400 to the F-35, and are separate from any congressionally mandated, Russia-related sanctions under the CAATSA.”

“There are 937 parts produced by Turkish industries. A little over 400 of them were sole-sourced,” said Lord.

“That’s what we are particularly focused on.  And we are working…with Lockheed Martin on the aircraft side, with Pratt & Whitney on the engine side, to find alternate sources.”

Specific parts currently produced in Turkey include a majority of the landing gear and parts of the central fuselage of the aircraft, according to Lord.

The US administration, along with its allies, has been working for the last six months to develop and implement changes to the F-35 supply base to prepare for Turkey’s potential suspension.

Lord added: “These actions are intended to mediate risks posed by the S-400 to the F-35, and are separate from any congressionally mandated, Russia-related sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA.”

The US offered the Patriot air and missile defence systems to Turkey as a solution for the country to drop its plans to procure the Russian system.

Read the full US DoD transcript here.