U.S. expels Turkey from F-35 programme in response to S-400 deal 

This story has been updated.

U.S. officials announced on Wednesday Turkey’s formal expulsion from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme in a statement followed by a rare live Pentagon press briefing.

Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen M. Lord said the F-35 relies on its advanced stealth abilities and cannot co-exist with a Russian intelligence collection platform, and as such, Turkey’s continued involvement with the F-35 program has been rendered impossible. 

Ankara soon responded to the U.S. move. “This one-sided step neither complies with the spirit of alliance nor is it based on legitimate reasons,” Turkey's Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued Wednesday. “It is unfair to remove Turkey, one of the partners in the F-35 program."

Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy David J. Trachtenberg stressed that the U.S. government has repeatedly stated on various platforms that Turkey could choose to acquire the Russian-made S-400 air defence systems, or the U.S.’s F-35 fighter jets, but ot both.

Following months of extended tensions over the purchase, delivery for the S-400 systems started on July 12 to an airbase near Turkey’s capital Ankara. On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the deal was the most significant contract in modern Turkish history.

Pentagon officials chose not to answer a question about whether Turkey would be allowed to remain in NATO. Trachtenberg said it is for NATO to decide about Turkey's membership status, not the United States. 

Pentagon official also avoided answering when asked about whether Turkish personel who worked with F-35s provided information to Russia. 

The U.S. Department of Defense statement mentioned multiple offers for Turkey to receive U.S.-made Patriot air defence systems, while President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that Turkey had been “forced to buy” the S-400 after the country’s bid for the Patriot systems was rejected by the previous Obama administration.

Nonetheless, the S-400 “undermines the commitments all NATO allies made to each other,” said the DoD statement. 

Undersecretary Trachtenberg said the U.S. still greatly values the strategic relationship with Turkey, and stressed that the reaction to expulse Turkey from the F-35 program is “a specific response to a specific event”. The extensive military cooperation will continue between the two countries, including exercises in Georgia, Germany and Ukraine.

Turkey’s removal will have minimal impact on the F-35 program at large, said Undersecretary Lord, as the U.S. will handle Turkey’s workshare and redistribute among other partners gradually.

Washington sources told Ahval that the White House will likely announce the CAATSA sanctions by Friday, after the closing of the market. This news has not been confirmed by the U.S. government authorities.

The production of around 900 parts for the program will be “unwound” until March 2020 and  Turkey will “lose jobs and future economic opportunities from this decision,” said Lord, estimating a total of 9 billion dollars lost over the lifetime of the program.

The main U.S. contractor in the F-35 program Lockheed Martin had previously issued a statement and said, "This is a government-to-government matter, and as always, we are following official U.S. Government guidance as it relates to delivery of the F-35 to Turkey and the export of goods from the Turkish supply chain." 

The U.S. will not be delivering the four already-manufactured jets to Turkey, and is exploring possibilites among other program partners for the purchase of the 100 F-35 jets Turkey had ordered.

Undersecretary Lord said the removal is not part of any possible CAATSA sanctions, and details on possible sanctions are at the State Department’s discretion.

Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement late in local Turkish time reacting to the U.S. announcement of expulsion. Ankara also said in its statement that it invites the U.S. to reverse its decision before it creates irreparable damage in strategic relations with Turkey.