US Defense Chief: We’ll move F-35 work out of Turkey

Acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan affirmed that if Turkey proceeds with its planned purchase of the advanced Russian air defense system, the S-400, the US will end Turkey’s role in the production of its advanced fighter jet, the F-35.

“If Turkey decides that the S-400 is a decision they want to go forward with,” Shanahan told journalists on Friday, “we have to move work” on the F-35 “out of -Turkey.”

Ankara has invested over one billion dollars in the F-35 program. It was supposed to receive 100 planes, as well as produce components for the fighter.

Although no final decision has been made, Shanahan said, the Pentagon was preparing for the possibility that Turkey would be dropped entirely from the program.

He explained that he had met last week with senior executives from two major US airline manufacturing companies—Lockheed Martin and United Technologies Corporation—to work out how they could replace the components of the F-35 that Turkish companies are supposed to produce.

“If we can’t get a resolution to the situation,” he said, “we need to execute our plans, in terms of moving the work.”

Shanahan’s comments stand in strong contrast to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s claim on Tuesday, after a conversation with US President Donald Trump, that the F-35 program was “bound to collapse” without Turkey’s participation.

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The Turkish government remains committed to acquiring the S-400, but it had looked to Trump, in the hope that the US President would overrule his national security team, and resolve the dispute between Washington and Ankara.

Shanahan’s remarks on Friday make it clear that Trump rebuffed Erdogan when the two spoke by phone on Tuesday.

In addition, Congressional pressure is building against the Turkish acquisition of the S-400. Three senior members of the House Armed Services Committee introduced a bill on Friday that would prohibit delivery of the F-35 to Turkey, if it purchases the S-400.

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship from Reps. Mike Turner (R, Ohio), John Garamendi (D, California), and Paul Cook (R, California.) It is a companion to a bill introduced in the Senate in March by a bipartisan group of senators: James Lankford (R, Oklahoma), Jeanne Shaheen, (D, New Hampshire), Thom Tillis (R, North Carolina), and Chris Van Hollen (D, -Maryland.)

Both the House and Senate bills are called the “Protecting NATO Skies Act of 2019.”

Turner, who also serves as Chairman of the Defense and Security Committee of the Paris-based NATO Parliamentary Assembly, issued a statement warning, “Turkey is choosing to jeopardize its F-35 partner status for dealings with the Russian Federation.”

“It is imperative that we prevent our superior F-35 capabilities from falling into the wrong hands,” he continued.

Garamendi similarly stated, “Operating the S-400 alongside the F-35 would compromise the aircraft and its sensitive technology, impact interoperability among NATO allies, and most importantly pose serious risk to our shared defense and security.”

“Proceeding with the S-400 is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” he concluded.

Nonetheless, speaking in Hungary on Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu dismissed the US concerns, while he re-affirmed Ankara’s intent to acquire the Russian missile system.

If that indeed does happen, Turkey will not receive the F-35, and it will forfeit the money that it has invested in the program.