President Trump Signs Off on Blocking Turkey’s F-35s

 - August 15, 2018, 2:33 PM
Turkey's first F-35A was displayed at the June 21 handover ceremony flanked by the Roketsan SOM-J standoff missile (right) and a bomb fitted with the Aselsan HGK guidance kit, both of which Turkey had plans to integrate with the F-35A. (photo: Lockheed Martin)

On August 13, President Trump signed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law at Fort Drum, New York, home of the 10th Mountain Infantry. As well as authorizing a $716 billion top-line budget, the act includes a temporary bar to delivering Lockheed Martin F-35A stealth fighters to Turkey as part of a deteriorating diplomatic situation with Ankara.

Political campaigns within the U.S. to prevent F-35 deliveries were sparked primarily by Turkey’s efforts to procure the S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Russia, and have been reinforced by Turkey's failure to release jailed U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been detained over allegations that he was involved in the 2016 coup attempt. The U.S. placed economic sanctions on Turkey on August 10.

The 2019 NDAA requires a written review within 90 days of the risks associated with delivering F-35s to Turkey, and the nature of U.S.-Turkish military relations with regard to elements such as the use of Incirlik air base by U.S. forces and of commonly operated weapon systems such as the Patriot SAM, F-16 Fighting Falcon and UH-60 Black Hawk. The block on F-35 deliveries can only be reviewed after these risk-analysis assessments have been submitted.

There are also major ramifications for the F-35 industrial program. As an industry partner, Turkey has invested more than $1 billion into the F-35 program, and has ordered 30 F-35As from an expected requirement for around 100. Several Turkish companies are involved in the program, led by Turkish Aerospace, which is a second source (after Northrop Grumman) for the central fuselage. Turkey was also slated to host one of three engine overhaul locations in Europe. Redistributing this work among other partners could lead to delays in deliveries, while the loss of Turkey’s order could have price implications for the other customers.

With that in mind, the NDAA legislation also calls for a thorough assessment of the ramifications of Turkey leaving the industrial program, as well as an analysis of NATO-operated missile systems to present to Ankara as an alternative to the Russian S-400.

Earlier, Turkey received its first two F-35As in a ceremony at the Fort Worth factory on June 21, after which they were flown to Luke AFB. The first four Turkish F-35s were intended to remain in the U.S. so that pilot training could begin.

As well as affecting the F-35 program, the U.S.-Turkey diplomatic row could also threaten the sale of 30 Turkish Aerospace T129 Atak helicopters to Pakistan. Signed in July, this $1.5 billion deal represents Turkey’s biggest single defense sale to date. However, it could be scuppered if the U.S. vetoes the export of the LHTEC T800-4A engines that power the T129. LHTEC is a joint venture between Honeywell and Rolls-Royce.

Aside from this diplomatic row, the 2019 NDAA includes funding for a range of equipment programs and also an initiative for joint U.S.-Israeli counter-drone/UAV development. In his accompanying speech, the President also reinforced a Pentagon desire to launch a new Space Force in 2020.

In terms of air and air-related equipment, the NDAA provides for 55 UH-60Ms and 18 UH-60A/L upgrades; 48 remanufactured and 18 new-build AH-64E Apaches; six MQ-1C Gray Eagle RPAs; JAGM air-to-ground missiles; and 240 PAC-3 MSE surface-to-air missiles for the Army.

Authorized Navy/Marine Corps acquisitions include a Ford-class aircraft carrier; 20 F-35Bs and nine F-35Cs; 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets; eight CH-53K heavy-lift helicopters; 251 AIM-9X and 141 AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles; and 750 Small Diameter Bomb IIs.

Highlights of the Air Force acquisition program are 48 F-35As; 15 KC-46A Pegasus tanker/transports; 10 HH-60W combat rescue helicopters; 31 MQ-9 Reaper RPAs; nine C-130Js in varying versions; 360 JASSMs (joint air-to-surface standoff missiles); 35,990 JDAMs (joint direct attack munitions); 7,336 SDB (Small Diameter Bomb) Is and IIs; and 256 AIM-9X and 222 AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles.

Development of the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider next-generation bomber is fully funded, as is research and development work in the fields of hypersonics, directed energy, artificial intelligence and quantum computing. Ballistic missile defense and special operations forces also received funding for continued development and new equipment.