A delivery ceremony for Turkey’s first F-35A stealth fighter went ahead at Fort Worth yesterday, despite Congressional action that could prevent the aircraft leaving the U.S. The Senate version of the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) refers to deteriorating relations with Turkey in general and the nation's planned acquisition of the Russian S-400 SAM system in particular. The F-35 that was unveiled is one of two that is scheduled to fly to Luke AFB later this month, where Turkish air force pilots and maintainers will train on them for the next 16 months.
Although the Pentagon has made clear its opposition to Turkey’s S-400 deal, CNN reported that Secretary of Defense James Mattis is opposed to the Senate action, and is trying to prevent the language from appearing in the final NDAA. But no U.S. government or military official spoke at the delivery ceremony, and Turkey was represented only by mid-level officials. In theory, a law already enacted by the U.S. Congress could also prevent Turkey from operating F-35s. It sanctions countries that buy Russian defense equipment.
Turkey has been a level-two partner in the F-35 program since 2002, when it joined early in the System Design and Development (SDD) phase. It has stated a requirement for 100 aircraft, and the Turkish aerospace industry is providing parts and software for the entire program. In late 2014, the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) chose Turkey as the location for overhauls of the jet’s F135 engine. Pratt & Whitney created a joint venture in Izmir with Kale Aero in 2010, to manufacture parts for the F135.
Turkey’s first F-35 was shown at the ceremony with a SOM-J cruise missile developed by Roketsan and Tubitak-SAGE, and a 500-pound bomb equipped with the HGK GPS/INS guidance kit developed by the latter company. Turkish air force Maj. Gen. Rehar Ufuker said that both these Turkish weapons would be integrated with the F-35 “in the near future.” Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control has partnered with Roketsan to jointly develop and market the SOM-J.
Lockheed Martin leadership made no reference to the Senate action at the ceremony. However, chairman, president and CEO Marillyn Hewson said that the F-35 is “a decisive strategic tool [in cementing] strong and effective alliances.” Ufuker echoed the sentiment, saying that Turkey’s F-35s would “contribute greatly to the NATO alliance and regional security.” The country is offering to provide aircrew and maintenance training for other NATO allies that are buying F-35s, he added.