Trump cites Turkey as example of “stupidity” of F-35 global supply chain

United States President Donald Trump has blasted the F-35’s global supply chain and the “stupidity” of having work done overseas, citing Turkey as an example, Defense News said.

“I could tell you hundreds of stories of the stupidity that I’ve seen. As an example, we’re making a fighter jet. It’s a certain fighter jet, I won’t tell you which, but it happens to be the F-35,” Trump said during an appearance on Fox news on Thursday. 

“Look, we make F-35s — very important, the greatest jet in the world — where the main body of the jet is made in Turkey and then sent here,” Trump said.

He suggested that Turkey could refuse to give the United States crucial F-35 components if their relationship breaks down, Defense News said.

“The problem is if we have a problem with a country, you can’t make the jet. We get parts from all over the place. It’s so crazy. We should make everything in the United States,” Trump said.

There were nine partner nations on the programme to make the Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, and the United States. 

However, the United States expelled Turkey from the programme last year after the country purchased the Russian S-400 air defence system. The Pentagon is set to stop awarding F-35-related contracts to Turkish companies this year.

Defense News said Trump’s assertion that Turkey could deny the United States key F-35 components does not accurately reflect the current situation, as it is the U.S. Defence Department that is working to expel Turkey from the programme, and that Trump has overstated the role played by Turkey in the programme. 

Turkey makes around 1,000 different components for the F-35 – including the centre fuselage, some of which is built by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). However, TAI is only the secondary supplier for the centre fuselage, with Northrop Grumman taking the lead role and likely to take over TAI’s production until another supplier is found, Defense News said.

Defense News reported earlier this week that the expulsion of Turkish manufacturers from the F-35 fighter jet programme could worsen its existing supply chain delays.

The F-35 programme stems from efforts started in the 1990s, and was designed to produce planes not only for the United States, but also for its key allies who would help foot the bill for developing the jet, in exchange for contracts to produce components. 

The programme was intended to have operational benefits, as it would be easier to send information and coordinate military engagements if U.S. allies were using the same jet. 

A global supply chain was also intended to have industrial and economic benefits, since global production would be theoretically less prone to disruption and the planes would likely be cheaper due to economies of scale. 

The United States has said Turkey’s Russian S-400 air defence system is not compatible with NATO systems and threatens the stealth capabilities of the new fighter jets. 

Turkey has disputed this and said that the S-400s will not be integrated into NATO’s defences. Turkey had previously said it would make the Russian missile defence systems operational in April, but such a move had not yet been made.