Three members of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) this week introduced a new bill designed to limit the transfer of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey as long as it continues its plans to procure the Russian-made S-400 weapon system.

Reps. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Paul Cook (R-Calif.) introduced the “Protecting NATO Skies Act of 2019,” a companion bill to a Senate bill with the same name introduced in March by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) (Defense Daily, March 28).

Hill Air Force Base F-35As fly in formation over the Utah Test and Training Range, March 30, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)

“Turkey is our friend and partner,” said Turner in a statement Friday. “However, Turkey is choosing to jeopardize its F-35 partner status for dealings with the Russian Federation. It is imperative that we prevent our superior F-35 capabilities from falling into the wrong hands. I strongly urge Turkey to reconsider its purchase of the Russian S-400.”

Turner formerly chaired the HASC Tactical Air and Land Subcommittee, and remains a committee member. He currently serves as ranking member of the HASC Strategic Forces Subcommittee, as well as Chairman of the Defense and Security Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

Garamendi, who chairs the HASC Readiness Subcommittee, noted in the statement that Turkey is an “important NATO ally and key supplier in the multinational F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.” However, he expressed concerns about Ankara’s decision to acquire and operate the S-400 air defense system, which Pentagon leaders have said is incompatible with a NATO system.

“This bill sends a strong and important message to Turkey — proceeding with the S-400 is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Garamendi said.

The Defense Department announced April 1 that it had halted planned deliveries of the F-35A bound for Turkey by November 2019, as well as associated activities (Defense Daily, April 1). Turkey has taken delivery of two jets, which remain stationed at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. It also stated an intent to find secondary sources for Turkish-produced parts.

Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the F-35 program executive officer, told reporters May 2 that the F-35 Joint Program Office is working with prime contractors Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Pratt & Whitney [UTX] to identify U.S. suppliers that could qualify and generate the same parts that Turkey is currently responsible for. That would allow the JPO to minimize any potential supply chain disruption should the U.S. government opt to withdraw the NATO member state from the F-35 program, he said after testifying before the HASC Tactical Air and Land Subcommittee on Capitol Hill.

However, the Turkish suppliers have not been replaced, he emphasized.

“The parts in Turkey are still coming to us, they’re still doing all the work, they’re very reliable, they’re affordable, they’re quality, they do it well,” he said. “But we are also establishing and understanding how we would minimize that disruption if a decision is made by senior leadership to do so.”

Turkey is responsible for about 5 to 6 percent of the F-35 supply chain, the same amount as each of the Joint Strike Fighter’s international partners, Winter said.

Turkish news sources reported May 1 that Ankara’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to meet with U.S. President Trump when the latter visits Turkey this July. Erdoğan has expressed his intent to continue with the S-400 buy, and stated the F-35 program cannot “survive” without Turkey, per Turkish reports.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan met with Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar April 16, where they “focused their discussion on interests, rather than positions, and on the importance of U.S.-Turkish cooperation bilaterally and as NATO allies in achieving mutual security and economic prosperity for both countries and the region,” said Acting Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Charles Summers in a statement that day. Shanahan has told Congress he expects that the situation will be resolved and Turkey will ultimately receive the F-35.

Winter stated Thursday: “From my perch … I know that we can do the alternate source and minimize disruption and be able to continue to produce and sustain our F-35 enterprise well into the future.”