The process of transferring the F-35 jets to Turkey will be temporarily frozen, according to the most recent addition to the US defense policy bill for 2019, Bloomberg reported, citing anonymous sources in both chambers of the US Congress.
According to the proposal, a decision regarding the supply of F-35 jets to Ankara will be made after the Pentagon delivers an assessment as to how canceling the delivery of the planes will impact relations between the US and Turkey, Turkish plans to acquire Russian S-400 air defense systems and the US industrial base in the event that Ankara withdraws from the international F-35 program. The assessment needs to be submitted within 90 days. The 2019 defense bill containing the measure has still not been approved by Congress.
Earlier, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis cautioned Congress against depriving Ankara of its F-35 jets, admitting concerns regarding its "authoritarian drift" and possible acquisition of Russian S-400 systems. He said that the move could disrupt supply chains for the construction of other F-35 jets, delaying the supply of the warplanes by "18-24 months."
Ankara has been participating in the international development project of the cutting-edge fifth generation jet from the onset, with some parts of the F-35 being produced in Turkey. The US Congress is concerned about Ankara's agreement to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems, which, US lawmakers fear, Moscow could use to detect weaknesses of the F-35 and access sensitive data regarding NATO.
Ankara has blasted US efforts to disrupt the delivery of F-35s, reminding Washington that Turkey has already paid Lockheed Martin for part of its order for 100 F-35s.Turkish officials told the US that the country has a right to self-defense and explained that it would buy NATO air defense systems if Ankara were to receive an appropriate offer.