Turkish F-35 parts producers mull Bulgaria move to sidestep sanctions

Turkish defence companies contracted to build parts for F-35 stealth fighter jets have been considering moving production to Bulgaria to sidestep possible U.S. sanctions after Turkey was suspended from the F-35 joint production programme, Dünya newspaper reported.

Eight Turkish contractors that had been building 937 parts for the F-35s – Alp Aviation, Ayesas, Havelsan, Roketsan and Tubitak-SAGE, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), Kale Aerospace, and Fokker Elmo – have been directly affected by Washington’s decision to wind down Turkey’s role in joint production and complete the process as of March 2020. 

Turkey was suspended from the F-35 programme after receiving its first shipment of Russian S-400 missile systems in July 2019. The United States views the presence of Russian military hardware in a NATO ally’s defence system as a potential security threat.

Turkey also risks further U.S. sanctions that could be imposed under a law drafted to pressure third parties that deal with the Russian intelligence or defence sectors.

Dünya said on Thursday that defence companies clustered around the central Anatolian province of Eskişehir had been considering alternatives in the face of a possible U.S. embargo, citing sources in the industry. 

Some companies have even started looking for facilities in Bulgaria where they can continue producing parts for the F-35 programme, the daily said.

“I must say that the government’s attitude on that issue is also positive,” an unnamed source told Dünya. “Such alternatives have been considered so as not to waste the experienced gained so far by manufacturing F-35 parts.”

The source said U.S. sanctions targeted Turkey but not the Turkish companies, and therefore moving production to Bulgaria could help Turkey secure the gains it had made by participating the F-35 programme.