The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has approved a proposal to block the transfer of F-35s to Turkey and ultimately end that country’s participation in the U.S.-led fighter jet program.

The measure, an amendment to the fiscal year 2019 defense authorization bill, would keep the transfer prohibition in place until the Department of Defense gives Congress a plan for removing Turkey from the program. The plan is supposed to include timelines aimed at minimizing the impact on the program’s remaining international partners. 

South Korea's first F-35A is unveiled at a rollout ceremony. (Lockheed Martin photo)
South Korea’s first F-35A is unveiled at a rollout ceremony at Lockheed Martin’s plant in Fort Worth, Texas, on March 28, 2018. (Lockheed Martin photo)

Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) offered the amendment, saying Turkey should not receive the high-tech jets due to its human rights abuses, including the imprisonment of an innocent American pastor, and its increasing tilt toward Moscow, evidenced by its planned purchase of the S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Russia.

“Turkey’s actions make the transfer of sensitive F-35 technology and cutting-edge capabilities to [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s regime increasingly risky; therefore, we should block it,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who, along with Tillis and Shaheen, introduced a similar proposal as a stand-alone bill last month.

Turkey has been slated to buy 100 conventional-takeoff-and-landing F-35As and host a maintenance depot, and its companies have been eligible to become F-35 suppliers. According to an F-35 website managed by prime contractor Lockheed Martin [LMT], “F-35 industrial opportunities for Turkish companies are expected to reach $12 billion.”

Lockheed Martin referred questions about the SASC proposal to DoD. A DoD spokeswoman said the Trump administration’s views on the bill will be reflected in a statement of administration policy that will be released by the White House Office of Management and Budget. The Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C., had no immediate comment.

The committee released a summary of the defense authorization bill late May 24 (Defense Daily, May 24). It plans to unveil the full legislation in early June, and a Senate floor debate is expected to occur “pretty soon” after that, a committee aide told reporters May 25.

When the House debated its own version of the bill earlier this month, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) tried to offer an amendment to block the transfer of F-35s to Turkey unless the U.S. president certifies that Turkey is not engaging in certain actions. But the House Rules Committee did not clear his amendment for House floor consideration.