By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. on Wednesday announced it is removing Turkey 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.
"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 fighter program if it acquired the S-400 from Russia, warning the anti-air system could be used by Moscow to covertly attain secret information on the stealth fighter.
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 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."
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 the month.