US removing Turkey from F-35 fighter jet programme after its Russian missile defence purchase

Russia's S-400 missile defence system arrives in Turkey aboard a military cargo plane. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States said on Wednesday (July 17) that it was removing Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet programme, a move that had been long threatened and expected after Ankara began accepting delivery of an advanced Russian missile defence system last week.

The first parts of the S-400 air defence system were flown to the Murted military air base north-west of Ankara on Friday, sealing Nato ally Turkey's deal with Russia, which Washington had struggled for months to prevent.

"The US and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the programme and initiate the process to formally remove Turkey from the programme," Ellen Lord, the under secretary of defence for acquisition and sustainment, said at a briefing.

Lord said moving the supply chain for the advanced fighter jet would cost the United States between US$500 million (S$680 million) and US$600 million in non-recurring engineering costs.

Turkey makes more than 900 parts of the F-35, she said, adding that the supply chain would transition from Turkish to mainly US factories as Turkish suppliers are removed.

"Turkey will certainly and regrettably lose jobs and future economic opportunities from this decision," Lord said.

"It will no longer receive more than US$9 billion in projected work share related to the F-35 over the life of the programme,"she added.

The F-35 stealth fighter jet, the most advanced aircraft in the US arsenal, is used by Nato and other US allies.

Washington is concerned that deploying the S-400 with the F-35 would allow Russia to gain too much inside information about the aircraft's stealth system.

The Pentagon had already laid out a plan to remove Turkey from the programme, which included halting training for Turkish pilots on the aircraft.

Lord said all the Turkish F-35 pilots and personnel had "firm plans" to leave the United States and were scheduled to leave by July 31.

Turkey will no longer be able to buy the 100 F-35s it had agreed to purchase.

"These would likely have been delivered at an annual rate of 8-12 aircraft/year through the 2020s," Byron Callan an analyst at Capital Alpha Partners said in a research note on Wednesday.

The jet's prime contractor, Lockheed Martin and the jet's programme office at the Pentagon "should be able to re-market those delivery positions," Callan said.

The United States is considering expanding sales of the jets to five new nations, including Romania, Greece and Poland, as European allies bulk up their defences in the face of a strengthening Russia.

"The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities," the White House said in a statement earlier on Wednesday.

Turkey's foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment.

David Trachtenberg, the deputy under secretary of defence for policy, told reporters at the briefing with Lord that, despite removing Turkey from the programme, the United States valued its relationship with that country.

Washington has long said the acquisition might lead to Turkey's expulsion from the F-35 programme, and Wednesday's actions were in line with what the United States had said it would do.

"Over the last several months, we've been working to establish alternative sources of supply in the United States to quickly" adjust for the loss of Turkey's contribution to the programme, Carolyn Nelson, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman, said.

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