Turkish pilots take first flight in F-35 fighters

Pilots from the Turkish Air Force have taken their first flights in the new generation F-35 fighter jet, the Turkish Armed Forces' Twitter account reported on Tuesday.

On the same day, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued another warning to Turkey on its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems – a deal that has already endangered the transfer of F-35 jets to Turkey.

The rollout ceremony for the first two F-35s purchased by Turkey was held in June, but the jets will remain in the United States, where Turkish pilots are receiving training, until next June.

Congress has already made moves that could ultimately block the transfer, however, passing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in August. The NDAA contains a clause halting the transfer of F-35s until the Pentagon produces a report on the impact of removing Turkey from the F-35 production chain. Around 10 Turkish companies currently produce components used in the manufacture of F-35s.

One of the main motivating factors behind the legislation was Turkey’s purchase of the Russian missile defence systems, which Turkey’s NATO allies say threatens the alliance’s defence interoperability and could result in classified data falling into Russian hands.

“Clearly, Turkey bringing a Russian anti-aircraft, anti-missile system into a NATO country — we cannot integrate that into NATO. Yes, it does concern us and we do not recommend that,” Mattis told reporters at a press briefing on Tuesday.

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