U.S. Air Force to modify F-35s sold to Turkey

The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee has authorised the U.S. Air Force to modify six F-35s fighter jets that were sold to Turkey but will be used for the U.S. military, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Turkey was originally planning to purchase 100 F-35 jets and took ceremonial delivery of the first two in June 2018. The jets were delivered to the Luke Air Force Base located in Phoenix, Arizona, where they were used to teach Turkish pilots and crews how to maintain and fly the aircraft.

Turkey's partnership in the F-35 alliance was halted once the country received a first batch of Russian-made S-400 air defence system batteries last summer. Dozens of Turkish pilots and personnel were sent back to Turkey after its membership was frozen in early August.

Turkish officials have continued to say that Turkey's partnership in the programme was not over and it would return to participate.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last July, days before Turkey was officially suspended via a White House announcement, that a refusal by the United States to hand over the F-35 fighter jets that Turkey had purchased would violate the terms of the contract and amount to theft.

Turkey had so far reportedly paid $1.4 billion for the F-35s. Turkish companies would continue producing some parts for the jets throughout 2020, even though the United States had planned to fully move production away from Turkey by March, Defense One reported earlier this year.

U.S. President Donald Trump brought up the issues of the F-35s twice in a week in mid-May. On May 14, Trump said that parts of the F-35 jets were being made all over the world, including Turkey.

“The problem is, if we have a problem with a country, you can’t make the jet,” Trump said, adding that part of the “main body” of the jet was made in Turkey. “We have a good relationship with President Erdoğan, you know with me. What happens if we don’t have [a good relationship]? They’re going to say ‘well we’re not going to give you this'."

On Thursday, the Senate committee also authorised $9.1 billion to produce 95 F-35 aircraft under the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, an annual bill setting policy for the Department of Defense, Reuters said.