Transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey is now officially delayed by 90 days. Currently, no F-35 aircraft have arrived in Turkey. The formal delivery on June 21st during the Ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas has not brought any jets under Turkish control.
Following the reveal of a draft 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, US Defense Secretary is to prepare an extensive report on Turkish-American relations and Turkey’s role in the F-35 program. The initial threats of sanctions on F-35 deliveries were reduced with the purpose of reducing obstacles that may have caused an operational impact on the program, the Daily Sabah reports.
The Defense Secretary’s report is to include an assessment of the presence of US diplomatic and military activities within Turkey. It will also contain an assessment of the impact of the potential purchase of the Almaz-Antey S-400 Trium surface to air-missile system by Turkey.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had warned Congress against cutting off transfers of the F-35 in a latter to lawmakers on July 7th. He stated that he “with congressional concerns about the authoritarian drift in Turkey and its impact on human rights and rule of law.” But he said an F-35 cutoff would risk triggering an international “supply chain disruption” that would drive up costs and delay deliveries for up to 18-24 months.
The proposal for delays was introduced by Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Thom Tillis. US lawmakers, as reported by ABC News, have expressed concerns regarding Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Edrogan’s embrace of authoritarianism within Turkey. ABC news also claimed that the measure, proposed by Shaheen and Tillis, in the defense bill is a specific retaliation to the imprisonment of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson and other Americans. However, the draft bill has, according to the Daily Sabah, removed the language which states that and has instead rationalizes the delay with Turkey’s intention to purchase the S-400 systems. The report specifically says: “The conferees believe the Department of Defense should be prepared for all potential outcomes that would result if Turkey completes a purchase of the S-400 by conducting the assessment required of a significant change in Turkish participation in the F-35 program, including a reduction or elimination of such participation.”
Hurriyet daily news reported on July 24th that Ankara said was not expecting any problems with the delivery of the F-35 jets, despite the decision to block the sale of the aircraft. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, when asked about the bill by reporters answered: “Following the bill’s passing [in the U.S. Senate], this issue, as you know, is completely at the disposal of U.S. President [Donald Trump]. During our meeting in Brussels, Mr. Trump has also shown us the written statement he made. Such an issue [the banning of the delivery of F-35 jets] is out of question,” referring to his meeting with President Donald Trump on July 11th at the NATO summit in Brussels.
The Turkish president also spoke in front of reporters after the July 23rd Congress decision: “We have made a $900 million payment so far [for the sale of the F-35 jets]. And the delivery of two of them was made to us there [at the defense contractor Lockheed Martin’s headquarters in Fort Worth in Texas]. And our pilots are now conducting their training flights [in Luke Air Force Base in Arizona]. We do not have any concerns at this point.”
The Daily Sabah reported that the Turkish embassy in Washington also lobbied against the decision.
An anonymous Turkish diplomatic source quoted by the Daily Sabah also said that the delivery freeze is unimportant and that the Pentagon could prepare the report in a single day.
Talks about sanctions on F-35 have been going on since May 2018. As reported by Defense News, Ankara has vowed reprisals if US congress passes a bill that prevents the sale of the fighter jets on May 6th. Regarding the removal of a NATO ally from the sale, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy, as reported by Ahval said “According to agreement, everybody has a mission and we expect everyone to fulfill these missions. Such steps are breach of the spirit of our alliance with the U.S. As our minister stated, if such steps are taken, we will have no other choice but to respond accordingly.”
On June 4th, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, as reported by the Daily Sabah, has said that Turkey will engage in diplomacy with other nations for fighter aircraft and increase efforts to build its own if US break the F-35. He further warned that Turkey would not accept threats regarding its plan to purchase the S-400 missile system from Russia.
On June 21st, Turkey received its first F-35 in a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas. Rudaw reported that Turkish General Reha Ufuk Er said: “F-35 is set to become the major strike aircraft of the Turkish airforce. As being the bulwark on the alliance’s southern flank, Turkey’s strengthening airpower will significantly augment the alliance’s air capabilities and contribute greatly to regional and global stability.” Rudaw, further reports that Turkey’s undersecretariat for defense industries Serdar Demirel emphasized that the US-Turkish defense industry partnership is not just limited to F-35 and that it has existed for long years, adding that he hopes it would continue to do so.
Furthermore, on June 21st, according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu no jets will arrive in Turkey until 2020. His exact words are “There will be training works until 2020. The arrival of the jets in Turkey will be in 2020.”