The United States is weighing options for excluding turkey from the F-35 fighter program, US Undersecretary of Defence for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord has said, speaking to reporters at a briefing on Friday.
Lord indicated that the US has already been working for some time to find alternatives to Turkish suppliers for the F-35, adding that the US continues its cooperation with Turkey on the program for the moment and still hopes that they will choose NATO-compliant air defence systems.
The official added that Turkey's exclusion from the F-35 program could lead to delayed deliveries and higher costs for the plane over the next two years, but added that the Pentagon believes both of these factors can be minimized.
"Right now we believe we can minimize those," Lord says— Lara Seligman (@laraseligman) 10 мая 2019 г.
Lord did not clarify how long it would take for the Pentagon to find partners in the US military-industrial complex or among US allies abroad to replace Turkish suppliers, saying the issue was still under discussion.
Ten Turkish companies are engaged in the production of components for the F-35, with Turkey, one of the nine original partner nations in the F-35 program, investing over $1.25 billion into the program and engaged in the delivery of multiple components for the advanced jet not produced by any other partner nation.
Russia and Turkey penned a $2.5 billion agreement for the delivery of four battalion sets of S-400 systems in late 2017. The first of the systems are expected to be delivered in July. The US has offered to provide Turkey with its Patriot PAC-3 air defence systems instead of the S-400s, threatened to freeze F-35 deliveries if the S-400 deal goes through, and warned Ankara might be hit with US sanctions against the export of Russian weapons systems. Ankara has repeatedly signaled that its commitment to the S-400 deal is non-negotiable, and insisted that the batteries are not a threat to NATO, the US or the F-35 in any way. Earlier this week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey's purchase of the S-400 was a matter of national sovereignty.
On Friday, Bild reported citing diplomatic circles that President Erdogan had rejected the S-400 deal amid US pressure. However, presidential communications director Fahrettin Altun denied the report, saying that the S-400 purchase was a "done deal" and that Bild's sources were "mistaken."