The U.S. government and its industry partners have continued to find new suppliers for the Turkish components of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and expect for the nation’s contributions to the program to be phased out by March 2020, officials said Nov. 13.
The Pentagon does not expect ongoing funding delays on the Hill will impact its progress of pushing Turkey out of the F-35 program, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said Wednesday at a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing on Capitol Hill. She called the original Turkish suppliers “very, very good,” but reiterated that plans remain in place for Ankara to be entirely removed from the program by next year.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, F-35 Program Executive Officer, told lawmakers that industry partners Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Pratt & Whitney [UTX] have made “spectacular progress” in their search for new suppliers since the team began to talk “very quietly but deliberately” about one year ago when it was announced that Turkey would be pushed out of the F-35 program following the country’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 weapon system.
The HASC Readiness and Tactical Air and Land Subcommittees convened the joint hearing to question both government and industry leaders on the status of the F-35’s sustainability hurdles (Defense Daily, Nov. 13). Fick confirmed to TAL Subcommittee Chairman Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) that the program continues to receive Turkish-made parts to this day, as the Pentagon did not dual-source parts to save funds.
There are 12 out of an original 1,000 Turkish-made components that still require new sources, he noted. Eleven are on the airframe side while one –the integrated blade rotor– is related to the engine. Officials from Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney told lawmakers in a separate panel of the hearing that they have been very satisfied to date with their Turkish suppliers. Lockheed Martin F-35 Vice President and General Manager Greg Ulmer said that should the political climate shift, Turkey would want to remain within the Joint Strike Fighter program.
The hearing took place the same day that President Trump invited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the White House for a joint news conference. Erdoğan said the S-400/F-35 issue had been discussed and that Turkey remains open to procuring the U.S.-made Patriot air defense system, which the Pentagon had hoped to sell to Ankara instead of the S-400.
Tom Karako, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, tweeted after the conference that the United States “mustn’t be bamboozled” by the Turkish leader’s remarks.
“Patriot is a fine system & has been good enough for Turkey for a decade…while provided by others,” he said. “But even if Erdoğan were to buy Patriot—he won’t—it would in no way alleviate the security issue of compromising F-35. This is a total non-sequitur.”
The U.S. government approved Turkey to procure the Raytheon [RTN] built Patriot system in an attempt to move Turkey to discard the S-400 and prevent the country from moving closer to Russia. Earlier this year, Erdoğan indicated interest in procuring the Russian-made Su-35 fighter jet at an air show in Moscow.
The mere delivery of the S-400 in Turkey this summer has prompted concerns from its fellow NATO member-nations.
Camille Grand, the assistant secretary general for defense investment at NATO, told reporters Thursday in Washington, D.C. that the alliance does not control what its members procure, but merely provides guidance. “We certainly hope that they follow our guidance and purchase the right capabilities,” he said, adding that there is some precedence of NATO allies procuring Russian-made technology for their individual forces.
“At the same time, we have to recognize that the S-400 is a specific animal,” Grand said. “It’s a very sophisticated system, so that creates a number of issues for NATO interoperability, … which makes it difficult to foresee how it will be integrated in our environment.”