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F-35s for Turkey on hold as U.S. approves sales for Australia, Norway

By Allen Cone
F-35s for Turkey on hold as U.S. approves sales for Australia, Norway
A pilot assigned to the 388th Fighter Wing's 34th Fighter Squadron drops a GBU-39 bomb from an F-35A Lightning II on November 7, 2018. Photo by 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron/U.S. Air Force

April 2 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin was awarded a $151.3 million contract to sell 15 F-35 Lightning II aircraft to Australia and six to Norway.

The contract for the 21 planes comes in the wake of the United States halting delivery of equipment related to the F-35 jet to Turkey because of the nation's decision to purchase the Russian-made S-400 missile system. As a NATO partner in the development of the fighter jet, Turkey makes parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays and was expecting the first of the $90 million jets to arrive in November.

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The sale to Australia and Norway, which was a modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition, was announced Monday by the Defense Department.

Work is expected to be completed in December 2022 in U.S. and foreign plants. Thirty-percent will be performed in the company's headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas; 25 percent in El Segundo, Calif.; 20 percent in Warton, United Kingdom; 10 percent in Orlando, Fla.; and 5 percent each on Nashua, N.H.; Nagoya, Japan, and Baltimore, Maryland.

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Australia will pay $108.2 million and Norway $43.1 million under a cooperative agreement. The international partner funds in the full amount will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

Australia received its first F-35s last December, and Norway received them in November 2017.

Australia and Norway are among six NATO countries that have received the planes, including the United States, Britain, Italy and the Netherlands. Two other nations that also participated in the aircraft's development -- Canada and Denmark -- are scheduled to receive the F-35.

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Israel, Japan and South Korea also have signed contracts through foreign military sales.

Last May, Israel claimed to be the first country to use an F-35 in combat for cross-border strikes in the Middle East.

Last month, Lockheed received a $264.6 million contract modification in support of South Korea's F-35 Lightning II program with two planes expected to be deployed by May.

RELATED Lockheed to provide modification kits, tooling for F-35 air systems

Japan, which already retains a fleet of 42 F-35 fighters, is considering the purchase of an additional 100 F-35 fighter jets, according to a Japanese press report last November.

Turkey was supposed to be among the NATO nations to receive planes but on Monday the Pentagon confirmed the halted delivery to Turkey in statements to media outlets, including CNN and The Wall Street Journal.

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"The U.S. continues to warn Turkey of the negative consequences of its announced procurement of the S-400," Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said in the statement. "We have, however, been clear that the acquisition of the S-400 is not compatible with the F-35 and Turkey's continued participation in the F-35 program is at risk."

Andrews said the United States will continue the dialogue with Turkey "on this important matter."

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is scheduled to appear in Washington at a ministerial meeting marking the 70th anniversary of NATO.

"We very much regret the current situation facing our F-35 partnership, but the DoD is taking prudent steps to protect the shared investments made in our critical technology," Andrews said.

Members of Congress have called to block sending the aircraft to Turkey.

"I think both the executive branch of our government, the legislative branch of our government are going to have a hard time reconciling the presence of the S-400 and the most advanced fighter aircraft that we have, the F-35," Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said last month at an event at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

According to U.S. defense official, the S-400 could gather technical data on the F-35's capabilities and that critical information could be passed to Moscow.

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Washington has also offered Turkey the U.S.-made Patriot anti-missile system at a discount deal, an attempt to sway the country to abandon the S-400 buy.

In March, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government will receive the S-400s in July.

"It is out of the question for us to revoke the S-400 deal," Erdogan said.

Also in March, Turkey has rejected a U.S. proposal to deliver one Patriot missile defense system by the end of year if Ankara abandons the deal with Russia, Bloomberg reported.

Turkey rejected the offer despite better terms on pricing and co-production than Russia.

Last December, the U.S. State Department approved the proposed sale of Patriot surface-to-air and ballistic missile defense missiles. It includes 80 Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhance Missiles, 60 PAC-3 ballistic missile defense variants, and support equipment for a total estimated cost of $3.5 billion.

The F-35, a single-seat plane, has three variants: the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing, the F-35B short take-off and vertical-landing, and the F-35C designed for carriers.

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