ADDS DETAILS THROUGHOUT
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. on Wednesday announced it is removing Turkey and Turkish firms from the F-35 stealth fighter program, following through on threats to do so over Ankara's receipt of the Russian S-400 anti-air system.
The process will be completed by the end of March 2020, the Pentagon's acquisition and procurement chief Ellen Lord told reporters in a major break with a key NATO ally.
"The U.S. still values our strategic partnership with Turkey," Lord said. "The Department of Defense and the U.S. government more broadly have worked very hard to chart an alternative path that would enable Turkey to acquire air defense systems within NATO alliance standards for interoperability and still allow Turkey to remain within the F-35 partnership."
She noted the U.S. made efforts to supply Turkey with Patriot anti-air systems in a bid to have Ankara drop the S-400 purchase. The outreach, Lord said, had been underway since early 2017 when Turkey announced its interest in the Russian system.
The Trump administration had threatened to expel Turkey from the F-35 program if it acquired the S-400, warning the anti-air system could be used by Moscow to covertly attain secret information on the stealth fighter and is incompatible with NATO systems.
The delivery of S-400 components began last week and is ongoing with 14 shipments of related equipment so far having landed in Turkey over the last six days.
"Much of the F-35's strength lies in its stealth capabilities," said Lord. "So the ability to detect those capabilities would jeopardize the long-term security of the F-35 program."
U.S. President Donald Trump said Turkey would not be allowed to purchase the F-35 jets on Tuesday, a fact he lamented, but whether or not Turkey would be allowed to continue to participate in the program was left in the air until the Pentagon's announcement.
A White House statement issued just before the Defense Department briefed reporters was not specific on the matter.
Turkey's pilots and maintenance staff who were sent to the U.S. to train on the platform are being notified that they will have to leave the country by the end of July.
F-35 program countries were in "consensus" on Turkey's removal, Lord said.
In the short-term Turkey's share of F-35 parts production will be shifted to U.S. suppliers "but this will gradually open up to program partners," Lord said, noting that Turkey's removal will have "minimal impact" on the overall program.
Turkey stands to lose over $9 billion in program work share from the over 900 parts it was to make over the life of the program, she added.
The status of the money Turkey put down to purchase the fifth-generation aircraft is uncertain, however, with the Pentagon official saying only that "we're discussing the specifics about the aircraft they have purchased so far."