By Kasim Ileri
WASHINGTON (AA) - The fifth generation stealth fighter jet program is back on track, the head of Turkey’s defense industry told Anadolu Agency.
Following his U.S. trip to Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona, to attend a series of annual high-level meetings on the F-35 Joint Strike II program, of which Turkey is a partner, Turkish Undersecretary of Defense Industry Ismail Demir spoke with Anadolu Agency on Thursday.
“There were really a lot of question marks about the program, in terms of its budget, and timespan. There were various criticisms about the program,” Demir said. “So the significance of this meeting was that we saw that most of those question marks have been eliminated and both, the partner countries and the U.S., can see the future of the program now.”
“The program is back on track,” he said.
“The next step in front of us is the issue of delivery and logistical support for the operational fighters,” he said.
Senior Pentagon officials had told Congress last month that they did not expect “a major design problem” coming from the stealth aircraft.
U.S. Defense Department director of operational test and evaluation Michael Gilmore said in March that the program would be delayed by six months to one year due to the problems with stability systems, sensors and information diffusion systems.
The program is still expected to deliver 100 aircraft in 2019 and 145 by 2020.
Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II with its fifth generation advanced stealth-and-firepower technology - one of the Pentagon’s costliest projects - has 11 partner countries including Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the U.K.
The projected cost is about $380 billion, according to the Governmental Accountability Office.
Partner countries will share the costs proportionate to their aircraft order. Two aircraft will be delivered to Turkey in 2018, of a total order of 107, according to Demir.
The undersecretary said that the modernization and upgrades of the aircraft would continue after the delivery, noting that several Turkish companies are producing certain complicated parts of the F-35’s engine.
“Turkey is selected as the first headquarter for maintenance, repair and assembly of the engine for F-35 outside of the U.S.,” Demir added.
The undersecretary also touched upon the recent developments in Turkish defense industry, including the development of indigenous armed drones.
Demir said that Turkey had been attempting to develop its own technology but the reticence shown by the U.S. government to share its armed-drone technology simply forced Ankara to accelerate its own armed-drone program.
While Turkey is fighting the PKK and Daesh terrorist groups, the U.S. has dragged its feet on approving the sale of armed drones and guided ammunition to its NATO ally, citing concerns about the Turkish army’s fight against terrorists in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. The U.S. has reportedly only approved the sale of armed-drone technology to the U.K. and Italy.
According to Demir, there are currently scores of armed unmanned aircraft under production while several are operational and being tested for further upgrades .
“We want to diversify the weapon systems of our drones,” he said. “We don’t want to use a single type of ammunition with those aircraft, rather we are working on developing their capability of firing different missiles and ammunition.”