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US: Lawmakers to Limit Transfer of F-35s to Turkey

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ANKARA/WASHINGTON, D.C. – US lawmakers announced they are considering purchasing F-35A fighter jets under Turkish inventory by US Air Force, due to Turkey’s acquisition of Russian S-400 extremely long-range surface-to-air (SAM) and ballistic missile defense system.

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The National Defense Authorization Act for the fiscal year 2020, a joint defense budget prepared by the Senate and the House of Representatives released Monday, proposes the allocation of a $440 million fund for the Pentagon to purchase F-35 aircraft ordered by Turkey, as part of the modernization of national defense, Anadolu news agency reported.

“The conferees support the removal of the government of Turkey from the F-35 program due to its purchase of the S-400 Russian air defense system. As such, the conferees would support procurement by the Department of Defense of all F-35A aircraft procured by the Government of Turkey,” said the legislation.

The committee encouraged the Secretary of Defense to maximize the procurement quantity of F-35A aircraft earmarked for Turkey at Lots 12, 13, or 14 during the fiscal year 2020 using the additional funds.

Referring to possible sustainment and spare parts deficit in the F-35 program due to Turkey’s removal, the conferees emphasized “the importance of fully funding spare parts, ancillary mission equipment, publications, and technical data required to sustain F-35 aircraft”.

“Therefore, the conferees recommend a provision that would require the Secretary of Defense to certify that these necessary support equipment items will be procured prior to taking possession of the Turkish F-35A aircraft and that any Turkish F-35A aircraft will be delivered to the US Air Force in a configuration that allows for integration into the existing Air Force F-35A fleet,” it added.

They said the “offer of the Patriot air and missile defense system to Turkey constituted a viable alternative to Turkey’s acquisition of the S–400 air and missile defense system” all while the administration of former US President Barack Obama refused to sell the American missiles to Turkey despite the NATO ally’s consistent demands.

President Trump has repeatedly drawn attention to the failure and faults of the Obama administration in reaching a deal with Turkey and resisted penalizing Turkey over the S-400 issue. US lawmakers requested the DoD does not “transfer intellectual property, technical data, or material support necessary for, or related to, any maintenance or support of the F–35 aircraft necessary to establish Turkey’s indigenous F-35 capability”.

Turkish officials have long argued that Turkey would explore other avenues and eventually manufacture its own fighter jets if the US does not honor political and commercial commitments. The budget also imposes specific sanctions on certain shipping companies working in the construction of energy pipelines that contribute to Russian energy exports, including TurkStream.

The defense budget, including a $738-billion bill setting policy for the Department of Defense and new US measures, will be voted by the Senate and the House of Representatives without an amendment before it is signed into law by Trump.

This July, Turkey’s acquisition of the advanced Russian air-defense system prompted the Trump administration to remove Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter program. The US claims the system could be used by Russia to covertly obtain classified details on the jet and is incompatible with NATO systems.

Turkey, however, counters that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance. Turkish officials have also proposed setting up a commission to study the issue but are yet to get a positive response from the US.

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