U.S. on course to deliver F-35 to Turkey next week

The United States is on course to deliver the first F-35 stealth fighter jet to Turkey despite opposition from Congress, Defense News reported.

Lockheed Martin is preparing to present the aircraft to Turkish officials at a ceremony in Forth Worth next week as planned, a spokesman for the company said, according to the web site.

“The F-35 program traditionally hosts a ceremony to recognize every U.S. and international customer’s first aircraft,” the spokesman said in a written statement. “The rollout ceremony for Turkey’s first F-35 aircraft is scheduled for June 21.”

“The aircraft will then ferry to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where Turkish pilots will join the F-35A training pool.”

Still, the U.S. Senate is due to vote on a defence policy bill this week, which includes wording that would prohibit transfer of title of the aircraft to Turkey until the Defense Department officially removes Turkey from the program.

Political tensions between Ankara and Washington are high over NATO member Turkey’s imprisonment of a U.S. pastor on terrorism charges and Turkish plans to buy S-400 air defence missiles from Russia. Turkey is also angered at U.S. refusal to extradite an Islamic cleric that it blames for orchestrating a failed military coup in July 2016.

“But even if that language succeeds in the Senate, the defense policy bill will proceed to conference, where a group of armed services committee members will hammer out differences between the House and Senate versions to emerge with a single, final piece of legislation,” Velerie Insinna wrote in Defense News. “That process could take months.”

It seems that the Defense Department has no current plans to keep Turkey from getting its first F-35 or to put restrictions on its use in the United States, she said.

“We have a process to evaluate the risks to Western technology that that [procurement of S-400s] would present,” Thomas Goffus, the Defense Department’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO, said this week. “Our preference is that they do not acquire the S-400.”

“What restrictions are placed on them and what Congress will eventually pass, I can’t even speculate on it on this point,” he said, according to the web site.

Turkey will probably have already started building up its first squadron at Luke AFB airbase by the time Congress finally approves the legislation, Insinna said.