US: Turkish pilots to soon begin F-35 training

Published 04.07.2018 00:00

Turkish pilots and maintenance personnel will soon begin flight academics and training on the F-35 fighter jet in Arizona.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning told reporters late Monday that "Turkish F-35 pilots and maintainers have already arrived at Luke Air Force base" to begin the courses.

Manning said following established agreements, the U.S. maintains custody of the aircraft until it is transferred to partner countries and it will normally occur after the partner training is complete which will take approximately one to two years.

Turkey has been in the F-35 program since 1999. The Turkish defense industry has taken an active role in the production of aircraft. Alp Aviation, AYESAŞ, Kale Aviation, Kale Pratt & Whitney and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) have been producing parts for the first F-35 fighter jet for years.

It was previously stated that the F-35 project created new business opportunities for Turkish defense industry companies. In this context, it is estimated that the Turkish firms will reach a trade volume of $12 billion in the production process.

The U.S. Senate, however, overwhelmingly approved the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which includes an amendment prohibiting fighter jet sales to Turkey, citing 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.

Turkish authorities harshly criticized the U.S. Senate's decision and dubbed it "unfortunate."

The country's officials stressed that Turkey had delivered its commitments and has made its payments on time. They also said Turkey will turn to other markets if the United States does not allow it to buy Lockheed Martin's F-35 jets.

The bill must now be reconciled with one already passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in May and a compromise measure must then be passed by both chambers and signed by U.S. President Donald Trump.

"The U.S. government has not made a determination on Turkey's future participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program," Manning said in response to a question about the Pentagon's stance if the U.S. Senate's decision is approved as legislation.

"Turkey is a close and key NATO ally and has been an international participant with the F-35 program since 2002," he added.

Additionally, another spokesman, Lieut. Col. Mike Andrews, said the Pentagon "does not comment on proposed legislation" and Turkish pilots will continue training as long as "something" has not changed.

"The Senate voted to block. Now the Congress gets a vote, the president gets a vote," Andrews said in a response to a question about the Pentagon's next-state plan. "What you are asking me is to speculate. So all I can tell you is at the program right now - they will continue to fly."

Turkey took delivery of its first F-35 fighter jet at a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 21.

The first F-35 aircraft delivered is also the first fifth-generation fighter jet to enter the Turkish Air Force Command inventory.

The aircraft is expected to boost the Turkish Air Force with its superior capabilities such as latest sensors and an advanced radar system.

The country is expected to receive six F-35 jets by 2020. Four of these jets will be staying in the U.S. until 2020 and the two of them will be transferred to the integrated air base in Turkey's eastern province of Malatya.

Turkey will receive the remaining 24 jets from its first 30-jet order package by 2024.

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