The Pentagon is initiating steps to wind down Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program, as a result of Ankara’s plan to purchase a Russian missile defense system, with plans to stop training new pilots and halt the program by the end of July.
Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan sent a letter to the Turkish defense minister on Thursday detailing plans to remove Turkey from the program, while leaving the door open for future participation if the country forgoes buying the S-400 platform.
“While we seek to maintain our valued relationship, Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400. You still have the option to change course on the S-400,” Shanahan wrote to his counterpart.
The decision to stop pilot training arrives after the Pentagon recently moved to halt deliveries of F-35 materials to Turkey over the continued S-400 dispute.
Pentagon officials and lawmakers have expressed concern that Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 missile system could potentially provide opportunities for Russia to gain sensitive information on the Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built F-35.
“The United States greatly values the U.S.-Turkey dialogue and our strategic partnership. We were disappointed, however, to learn that Turkey sent personnel to Russia for training on the S-400 system,” Shanahan wrote. “In addition to threatening the security of platforms like the F-35, Turkey’s procurement of the S-400 will hinder your nation’s ability to enhance or maintain cooperation with the United States and within NATO, lead to Turkish strategic and economic over-dependence on Russia, and undermine Turkey’s very capable defense industry and ambitious economic development goal.”
Under the plan, Turkey’s 42 pilots currently training at Luke and Eglin Air Force Bases would have to leave the U.S. by July 31. Training for 34 more students slated to begin this summer is canceled.
Shanahan said Turkey has also been removed from participating in the upcoming F-35 Chief Executive Officer Roundtable on June 12.