A highly anticipated ceremony for the delivery of Turkey’s first two F-35 fighter jets from the United States will take place at the defense contractor Lockheed Martin’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas on June 21, despite successive attempts by the U.S. Congress to block the supply of the new generation fighters to its NATO ally.
Lockheed Martin will conduct a rollout ceremony in Fort Worth and the jets will move on to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona where Turkish F-35 pilots and technicians will receive training, Pentagon spokesman Mike Andrew said.
He declined to comment on the bill passed by Congress to block the delivery of the jets, saying “Turkey is one of the key members of NATO and a participant of the F-35 development project.”
Turkey has been a partner of the active development program of the U.S.-led multinational Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program since the early 2000s and plans to upgrade its air defense with around 100 F-35s in the next decade.
June 21’s ceremony will mark an historic milestone in this regard for the delivery of the first batch of F-35s to Turkey. In contradiction to the significance of the ceremony, Turkey will be represented only by the deputy undersecretary for the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, Serdar Demirel, and General Reha Ufuk Er from the General Staff’s general plans and policies division, in a rather low-profile fashion.
It hasn’t yet been announced who will be representing the U.S. government and the U.S. military on June 21. A reception will be held on the occasion of the ceremony at Lockheed Martin’s facilities.
The ceremony will occur just two days after the Senate passed a $716 billion defense policy bill including an amendment prohibiting the sales of the F-35s to Turkey. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 85-10 for the annual National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which stipulates that U.S. President Donald Trump should certify that Turkey does not threaten NATO, purchase defense equipment from Russia or detain U.S. citizens.
Some U.S. and NATO military experts have long been voicing concerns over Turkey’s decision to deploy Russia’s sophisticated S-400 anti-ballistic missile systems on the grounds that they could pose a threat to F-35s and other NATO weapon systems on Turkey’s soils. They are worried about the possibility that Russia can copy a number of confidential software codes, especially radar engagement frequencies found in the F-35s if the S-400 system operates within the same defense structure.
The second important drive behind the congressional move against Turkey is the continued detention of U.S. national Pastor Andrew Brunson over terror charges.
Turkey, on the other hand, has sought to diffuse the concerns of the U.S., trying to assure that it will never allow any weaponry deployed in Turkey to pose a threat to NATO and create a security loophole on the collective defense of the allies.
On Brunson’s legal process, Turkish officials say the Turkish judiciary is independent and impartial, calling their counterparts to respect it in the same way they do when Turkey raises the unanswered extradition request for Fethullah Gülen, believed to be the mastermind of the bloody failed coup in July 2016.
Turkish pilots to be trained
Although the ceremony will kick off June 21, Turkey will have to wait more than a year to deploy and use them as the Turkish pilots need to undertake a lengthy and tough training program before they are eligible to fly them. Turkish pilots will be trained as part of a special training program at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona until November 2019. Turkey plans to deploy F-35s on its Malatya Air Base, in Central Anatolia, where NATO’s key radar facility is also situated.
Turkey’s contribution to the JSH has exceeded $800 million with estimations that Turkish participation in the manufacturing process of the F-35s will provide around $7.5 billion importing capacity to the country.
Will there be restrictions on Turkey’s use of F-35s?
In line with growing concerns, there are unconfirmed reports that the U.S. might restrict the use of F-35s by Turkey through not providing necessary updates on the warfighter’s sophisticated communication system, if Turkey does not change its policy on the S-400s. The U.S. administration has never hinted that it would endorse the congressional move on the F-35s, but under increased pressure, it could seek other options.
In a statement to the media on June 19, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu called on the U.S. to discuss this row on Turkey’s procurement of the S-400s and the F-35s in an open manner.