The ceremony for the delivery of the first two F-35 joint strike fighters will be tomorrow, despite attempts by the U.S. Senate to block the procurement of the aircraft by Turkey, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Tuesday.
"There have been attempts in the U.S. Senate regarding the F-35 delivery. Two fighters will be delivered to us on June 21 and there are also attempts [to block this delivery]. We can't sustain a healthy relationship as such," Çavuşoğlu said during a live interview with the private broadcaster NTV. The foreign minister emphatically stated that Turkey is an importantly ally of the U.S. and referred to the recent agreement on the Manbij in northern Syria.
"Turkey would not risk its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The U.S. senate cannot present S-400 purchases from Russia as a pretext."
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also harshly criticized the U.S. Senate decision to block F-35 deliveries to Turkey.
"The decision is an unfortunate development," Yıldırım said.
"Turkey is not without alternatives. Such attempts are regrettable and are in contravention to the soul of strategic partnership," the prime minister added. The U.S. Senate on Monday passed a $716 billion defense policy bill including an amendment prohibiting sales to Turkey of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet program.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted 85-10 for the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDDA) for Fiscal Year 2019.
In the amendment to the bill, senators cited U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson's imprisonment on terror charges as well as the Turkish government's decision to purchase the S-400 air defense system from Russia.
The amendments to the bill also contains a provision to block Trump's deal with China to allow the telecommunications giant ZTE to stay in business despite violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea. But the amendment is not guaranteed to become law. The bill will now need to be reconciled with a House version - where the amendment could be stripped out - voted through both the House and the Senate, and signed into law by Trump.
Turkey ordered 100 aircraft, 30 of which were approved. The aircraft ordered by Turkey are reported to have the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variants. STOVL aircraft can take off without needing a long runway and make vertical landings. F-16 pilots currently serving in the Turkish Air Force will be able use the planes after the completion of a six-week training program.
Apart from Turkey, the U.S., U.K., Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Norway and Denmark are also present as participant members of the program.
Turkey's cooperation with prime contractor U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin dates back to the 1990s, when it purchased F-16 fighter jets. Turkish firms continue cooperation in the areas of system development and drills as part of the F-35 project.
Several Turkish firms are involved in producing the fighter jets as part of Turkey's partner role in the joint program. Turkish firms participating in the F-35 project are expected to make a profit of $12 billion. For instance, Alp Aviation partook in the production of the bodywork and landing gear; Ayesaş supplied the missile remote control interface and panoramic cockpit imaging system; and Fokker Elma produced the electrical cabling and internal connection systems for the F-35s. Moreover, Havelsan provided the training systems for the F-35 jets, while Kale Aviation produced the body structure, connections and landing gear locking systems. Defense giant ROKETSAN TÜBİTAK SAGE developed the SOM-J standoff missiles to be transported by the F-35s; Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) manufactured production materials, body coatings and provided the integration of air to ground systems; and Turkish defense firm MİKES participated in the production of various parts.