Military Aviation

Biden administration is continuing its predecessor’s policy of excluding Turkey from F-35 program

The Trump administration decided to kick Turkey out of the F-35 program in July 2019 because it bought the S-400 air defense system from Russia—a purchase the US said puts American military information at risk.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Feb. 5, 2021 that the Biden administration is continuing its predecessor’s policy of excluding Turkey from the international F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, Air Force Magazine reports.

The Trump administration decided to kick Turkey out of the F-35 program in July 2019 because it bought the S-400 air defense system from Russia—a purchase the US said puts American military information at risk. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham then said, in a statement that the country’s involvement in the program had become “impossible.”

“Unfortunately, Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible. The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” she said.

That argument remains, even as new leadership takes the reins.

“Our position has not changed,” Kirby said at a Pentagon press briefing. “The S-400 is incompatible with the F-35 and Turkey has been suspended from that program.”

He explained that the US urges Ankara not to keep the S-400 and wants to work with Turkey to provide air defense solutions to meet its legitimate air defense needs, that can be fulfilled by American made Patriot air defense system. Turkey had multiple opportunities over the last decade to purchase the Patriot defense system from the US and instead chose to purchase the S-400.

The US Air Force (USAF) took delivery of the eight F-35As initially built for Turkey, but never delivered under an $861.7 million contract. Turkey had already ordered when it was ousted, and is being cut out of the F-35 supply chain over the course of the next two years as well.

In December, Turkey was sanctioned by the US over its embrace of the S-400, in accordance with federal law, though the Trump administration held off on doing so for more than a year. The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act further mandated that the government impose at least five penalties on Turkey, as required by the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), within 30 days of its enactment on Jan. 1.

President Joe Biden could end those sanctions this December if he certifies to Congress that Turkey and “any person acting on its behalf” no longer owns the S-400.

Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said last year it wanted the US to handle the dispute “through dialogue and diplomacy,” not sanctions.

“Turkey will take the necessary steps against this decision, which will negatively affect our relations and will retaliate in a manner and timing it deems appropriate,” the ministry wrote. “Turkey will never refrain from taking the necessary measures to safeguard its national security.”

As previously reported, in August 2019 the Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Şafak reported that the Turkish Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM – Savunma Sanayii Mustesarligi) asked the Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (MSB – Turkish Ministry of Defense) to formally weigh in on the possible purchase of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker. It will start official negotiations with Russian state agency ROSOBORONEXPORT if the military approves the proposal.

In July 2019, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov announced that Russia was ready to sell combat aircraft to Ankara, while Sergey Chemezov, the head of Russia’s top state-run industrial conglomerate Rostec, said the country was ready to supply Turkey and its air force Su-35s.

If the Russian approach does not yield the appropriate results, jet fighters produced by China and/or Pakistan will also be taken into consideration.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35A Lightning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force / Lockheed Martin

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • Good! Turkey should not receive such advanced fighter planes as they already have an advanced air defense system. Give it to Greece instead, they'll need it to use as leverage against S-400.

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