WASHINGTON — Turkey was formally kicked out of the F-35 fighter program Wednesday for its acceptance of a Russian anti-missile system, but will stay within NATO — at least for the moment, the White House and Pentagon said.
“”Turkey cannot field a Russian intelligence collection platform in proximity to where the F-35 program makes repairs and houses the F-35,” Ellen Lord, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, told Pentagon reporters Wednesday.
All Turkish personnel now in the U.S. because of the F-35, including pilots and maintenance technicians, will leave by July 31, Lord said.
David Trachtenberg, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, said Turkey would not be permitted to take part in NATO’s integrated air defense against Russia, However, he refused to comment on whether Turkey’s now limited role would weaken the alliance.
“Our relationship is multi-layered and extends beyond the F-35 (and) will continue against the entire spectrum of security arrangements,” he said, regarding what he called “this unfortunate development.”
He said that tossing Turkey from the F-35 program is a “specific response to a specific event” and that Turkey would continue to participate in upcoming NATO exercises in Georgia, Germany and Ukraine as well as “in a range of NATO” activities.
The first components of the S-400, Russia’s most advanced anti-missile system, arrived in Turkey on Friday.
The White House said in a statement that Turkey’s accepting the S-400 “undermines the commitments all NATO Allies made to each other to move away from Russian systems.” The overriding concern is with Russia operating the S-400 system, as it plans to do at least initially, Moscow will have a way to hack into the technology used to produce the F-35.
“Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible,” the White House statement read.
Turkey’s leaders said the S-400 system can be operable as soon as this fall but no later than April 2020.
Turkey is one of several nations in the F-35 consortium. It planned to buy 100 F-35As, of which four have been purchased. However, the U.S. has the right to keep the planes from going to Turkey and Lord said discussions regarding reimbursement and disposition of those planes are underway.
The Pentagon announced in early April that it “suspended” deliveries of F-35 fighter jet parts and manuals to Turkey over its purchase of the Russian system.
Turkish companies will lose about $9 billion in future sales for parts, Lord said. She said that there would be minimal disruption on the F-35 supply chain and that the program will be weened off Turkish providers by the end of March 2020.
President Donald Trump has blamed the Obama administration for the situation, charging it refused to sell the U.S. Patriot anti-missile system to Turkey. The charge is not accurate.
A key reason Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed the deal with Moscow is that it includes a co-production agreement that eventually would allow Turkey to produce its own surface-to-air missile defenses, based on Russian technology. The Obama administration was in support of selling Turkey the Patriot system but would not share the technology behind it.