Pentagon may store F-35 jets earmarked for Turkey

The U.S. Congress is offering the Department of Defense up to $30 million to spend on storing F-35 stealth fighters jets whose delivery to Turkey has been halted over Ankara’s decision to acquire Russian S-400 missile systems, the Business Insider reported on Tuesday. 

The Pentagon will store the jets until a plan for their use is formalised, according to the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020, the Business Adviser said. 

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has been given the option to spend funds "to be appropriated for fiscal year 2020 for the Department of Defense to conduct activities associated with storage, preservation, and developing a plan for the final disposition of such F-35 aircraft and Turkish F-35 aircraft equipment, including full mission simulators, helmet-mounted display systems, air system maintenance trainers, and ancillary mission equipment," the bill states.

That money would fund storage for up to six jets out of the 100 Turkey planned to purchase from the United States, the Business Insider said. 

The bill rules out the delivery of the fifth-generation jets to Turkey until Ankara gets rid of the S-400 systems, which it started testing in Ankara last month. 

Esper has 90 days from the bill's passage to provide congressional defence committees with a report outlining a long-term plan for Turkey's F-35s "which includes options for recovery of costs from Turkey and for unilateral use of such assets," the bill says.

Despite the U.S. concerns that the deployment of S-400s in Turkey may lead to Russian subterfuge on the F-35 jets, Turkey started receiving deliveries of S-400 batteries in July. 

Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Wednesday that it was no longer possible for Turkey to give up the S-400 systems. “We should focus on how we can find a solution when those systems exist,” he said, referring to U.S. objections. 

The minister said the installation of the first S-400 system would be complete in Spring, while the delivery of a second S-400 system is expected to start at the end of next year.

The head of Russia’s military cooperation agency said last week that Ankara and Moscow were likely to sign a new contract for the delivery of a new batch of Russian S-400 air defence missiles in 2020.