U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has warned the U.S. Congress to not ban the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. U.S. lawmakers were seeking to do so in response to Turkey's decision to buy the S-400 missile defense system from Russia.
The U.S. Senate in June passed a $716 billion defense policy bill which included an amendment prohibiting the sale of the F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. 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.
"At this time, I oppose removal of Turkey from the F-35," Mattis wrote in a previously undisclosed letter this month to lawmakers negotiating the fiscal 2019 defense bills, according to Bloomberg.
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 report also quoted Mattis as saying that a cutoff risks triggering an international "supply chain disruption" that would drive up costs and delay deliveries of the fighter jet.
In mid-June, Mattis opposed congressional attempts to block Turkey's receipt of the advanced warplanes. Reports said Mattis was actively engaging with members of Congress in an attempt to ensure that the language in the Senate's version of the defense bill does not make it into the final version to be signed by President Donald Trump.Turkey is an official participant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, Mattis reminded lawmakers on Friday, the report noted. It also said Turkey has invested $1.25 billion in the aircraft's development phase.
Apart from Turkey, the U.S., U.K., Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Norway and Denmark are also members of the program. 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. The report also referred to a letter Mattis wrote on July 7 to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, in which he said if the Turkish supply chain was disrupted today, it would result in an aircraft production break, delaying delivery of 50 to 75 jets and would take approximately 18-24 months to re-source parts made by Turkish companies. A similar letter was sent to the Senate Armed Services panel.
Turkey ordered 100 aircraft, 30 of which were approved. The country 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 the 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.