Turkey: Pentagon threat to remove F-35 program not in spirit of alliance

Allen Cone
An F-35A Lightning II pilot sits in his aircraft before a mission on April 26 at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. Photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury/U.S. Air Force
An F-35A Lightning II pilot sits in his aircraft before a mission on April 26 at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. Photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury/U.S. Air Force

June 12 (UPI) -- The Pentagon's threat to remove Turkey from the F-35 program is not in line with the spirit of the two nations' alliance, the Middle East country's national defense minister said Wednesday.

Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan sent a letter on June 6 to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar that Turkey would be pulled from the F-35 Lightning II jet program -- including sales and the banning of Turkish contractors -- unless Ankara decides not to go ahead with plans to purchase a Russian missile defense system.


Akar said Turkey is preparing a response to the letter and that he plans to speak with Shanahan on the phone Thursday, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

"All topics are on the table and we are continuing to openly and clearly express our known views. We will continue to maintain the same attitude and stance," Akar said in a statement, according to Xinhua news agency.

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On Tuesday, Shanahan said he will discuss the U.S. opposition to purchasing Russia's S-400 missile defense system with Akar on Wednesday, noting it would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose the F-35 to possible Russian interference. But Turkey has said the S-400 wouldn't be integrated into NATO operability.

And Turkey said it was unable to purchase the U.S Patriot missile system.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Air Force halted ongoing training of Turkish pilots on the F-35 at Luke AFB, Ariz., as well as training for Turkish maintenance personnel at Eglin AFB, Fla., and joint military exercises in Turkey.

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By early 2020, contracts with major Turkish defense contractors, including Turkish Aerospace Industries, Roketsan and Tusas Engine Industries, would end if the country is pulled from the program, the Pentagon said.

"Covering defense and security issues between the two countries, the letter expresses the expectation of finding a solution to the existing problems within the framework of strategic partnership and maintaining the comprehensive security cooperation and emphasizes the importance of continuing negotiations," the Turkish Defense Ministry posted on its website Saturday.

On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution "expressing concern for the United States-Turkey alliance."

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The resolution, according to the Turkish Foreign Affairs Ministry, "is not consistent in any way with the deep rooted friendship and alliance between Turkey and the U.S. It is impossible to accept the unfair and unfounded allegations raised in the Resolution about Turkey's foreign policy and judicial system.

"As we have always emphasized, the most effective way of eliminating disagreements between friendly and allied countries is dialogue and respect for the sovereign decisions of the countries. Instead, approving such resolutions which are not binding and which do not serve to enhance mutual trust; using the language of threat and sanctions and putting some artificial deadlines are not acceptable."

The U.S. Defense Department is seeking new parts suppliers for planes to replace those coming from Turkey should it buy the defense system from Russia. Lockheed Martin is the primary airframe builder and Pratt & Whitney manufactures the propulsion system.

Turkey, which was scheduled to receive its first aircraft later this year, has been among nine partner nations in the program. Six NATO countries have received F-35s: the United States, Australia, Britain, Italy, Norway, Netherlands.

Two additional nations that also participated in the aircraft's development -- Canada and Denmark -- are scheduled to receive the aircraft as well.

The first F-35 Lightning II rolled out of the Lockheed Martin factory in Fort Worth, Texas in 2006.

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