Turkey has inked a consultation agreement with a Washington-based law firm to lobby to protect its rights in the F-35 fighter jet program after the country was suspended by the U.S., a move regarded as “unilateral and unlawful” by Ankara.
Washington removed Turkey from the F-35 Lightning II jet program in 2019, arguing that S-400 air missile systems acquired by Turkey could be used by Russia to covertly obtain classified details on the Lockheed Martin F-35 jets and is incompatible with NATO systems. Turkey, however, insists that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
Ankara-based SSTEK Defence Industry Technologies, owned by the Turkish Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB), Ankara's main defense industry authority, signed a contract with Arnold & Porter for "strategic advice and outreach" to U.S. authorities. Reuters reported that the six-month contract was worth $750,000 (TL 5.2 million) and started this month.
Arnold & Porter will "advise on a strategy for the SSB and Turkish contractors to remain within the Joint Strike Fighter Program, taking into consideration and addressing the complex geopolitical and commercial factors at play," the contract said.
According to Anadolu Agency (AA), the contract aims to protect Turkey’s legal rights instead of focusing on readmission to the program.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said in January that preventing Turkey’s return to the F-35 program could cause serious damage to the relations between Ankara and Washington.
“We negotiated (on missile systems) with the U.S. and European countries. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive affirmative offers on issues such as cost, delivery, joint production. We had to choose Russia, who had a positive attitude toward us on these conditions,” Akar said regarding Ankara’s acquisition of S-400 systems.
The U.S. in December imposed sanctions on the SSB, its chief Ismail Demir and several other officials over the country's purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
A U.S. congressional watchdog warned in May 2020 that the U.S. decision to expel Turkey from the F-35 program is likely to compound its already beleaguered supply chain issues from a production increase. The $398 billion F-35 program has faced many problems since then, including engine shortages.
A report published by Bloomberg this week revealed that the Air Combat Command (ACC) had to cut eight air shows with the F-35 jet from their lineup in 2021 in order to save enough engines to use for deployments and training.