23:55 GMT28 November 2020
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    Earlier, amid tensions over Ankara's purchase of Russian S-400 air defence systems, a Pentagon spokesperson warned that there would be "grave consequences" for the Turkish-US defence relationship if the S-400 deliveries went through.

    Ankara is expecting the delivery of its first US-made F-35 fighter jets by November, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said.

    "Despite some statements, the process of procuring the F-35 jets is continuing as normal. Our pilots and maintenance teams are continuing to train in the US," Akar said, speaking to reporters on Thursday.

    "We expect the aircraft to be delivered in November to the [air base in] Malatya. All the necessary infrastructure is already prepared," the defence chief added.

    Akar's sentiment stands at odds with the sentiment expressed by Commander of NATO Forces in Europe Gen. Curtis Scraparrotti, who reiterated to lawmakers from the US House Armed Services Committee this week that Congress should block delivery of the F-35s to Turkey if Ankara went ahead with plans to buy Russian S-400s.

    Turkey contributed nearly $1 billion to the research and development of multiple components of the F-35 jet, a fifth-generation warplane created by Lockheed Martin which is expected to cost over $1.5 trillion over its fifty-year lifespan. Ankara expects to purchase at least 100 of the planes.

    However, tensions between Washington and Ankara over the S-400 have put the future of the F-35 deliveries in doubt. Last week, Pentagon spokesman Charlie Summers warned that "there would be grave consequences in terms of" the US-Turkish "military relationship, and the Patriots and the F-35s" if Ankara didn't cancel its deal with Moscow. "They will not get the F-35s if they take the S-400," Summers stressed.

    Earlier, the Pentagon urged Congress to block the delivery of F-35s outright if Turkey doesn't abort its purchase of the S-400s, indicating that the Russian system "presents a problem to all our aircraft, but specifically the F-35."

    President Erdogan rejected the recommendation, insisting that Turkey's purchase of the S-400s was "not connected to the security of NATO, the United States or the F-35 in any way".

    Lockheed Martin formally transferred the first two F-35s to Turkey last year, but the planes remain in the United States, ostensibly to help train Turkish pilots.

    On Wednesday, US Acting Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs Kathryn Wheelbarger reiterated that the US would be willing to continue negotiations on a $3.5 billion Patriot air defence system contract with Turkey if Ankara rejected the delivery of its S-400s in October.

    Ankara and Moscow signed a $2.5 billion contract on the delivery of four battalion sets of S-400s to Turkey in late 2017; the advanced air and missile defence system is currently only being used by Russia, Belarus and China.


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