Turkey seeks firewall to block F-35 fighters leaking data to U.S.

Turkey has launched a tender for a secure link between the Turkish Air Force’s main computer network and F-35 fighter jets over concerns the advanced fifth generation war planes will send sensitive information to its U.S. makers, U.S. online magazine The Drive reported.

Turkey plans to buy more than 100 of the multi-role stealth fighters made by Lockheed Martin, with the first deliveries due to take place by the end of 2018. But political disputes with the United States and concerns over Turkey’s planned purchase of Russian-made S400 air defence missiles could hamper the deal.

Turkey’s Under-Secretariat for Defence Industries has tendered for a “safe connection of information systems elements between the F-35 aircraft and the air force’s information systems network”. Tenders are to be submitted by the end of February, the magazine said.

“The goal of the Turkish effort seems to be to gain more control over what information goes into and comes out of its F-35s, improving its ability to share information across the country's air force,” it said.

Modern aircraft like the F-35 collect and receive a mass of information such as about enemy radar or other potential threats to create a much better view of the battlefield.

Being highly advanced flying computers, the jet fighters also send diagnostics about the plane, such as about parts that need to be serviced, and receive software updates, The Drive said.

Turkey is concerned the data F-35s send to U.S. defence industry giant Lockheed Martin may include sensitive information it does not want its NATO ally to know, the report said.

The data transfer might also be vulnerable to cyber-attacks, and this is a concern shared by other NATO members of the F-35 programme, it said.

Turkey is also worried its F-35s could be disrupted or completely disabled by the United States through software updates.

“It could allow Lockheed Martin, at the direction of the U.S. government, to disconnect a country’s F-35s from vital updates and potentially disrupt the jets’ operational capabilities remotely, if necessary. American authorities might also be able to use the network as a vector for a cyber attack to more completely disable the aircraft,” the magazine said.

So far, only Israel has convinced the United States to allow its own software to be installed on the jets, but given the poor state of relations between Ankara and Washington, Turkey’s chances are slim, the report said.

NATO countries are also concerned that once the F-35s and Russian S-400 air defence systems are connected to the Turkish military’s computers, sensitive flight data about the fighter planes could be obtained by Russia, The Drive said.