Senate moves to block F-35 transfer to Turkey
Senators on Thursday sought to prevent Turkey from receiving the first of dozens of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, even as aerospace giant Lockheed Martin held a ceremony the same day to transfer the aircraft to Ankara.
Senate appropriators inserted an amendment into the chamber’s appropriations bill for State Department and foreign aid that would halt the transfer of F-35s to Turkey unless the NATO ally cancels its purchase of the Russian-made S-400 long-range air and anti-missile defense system.
The United States and its NATO allies have expressed concerns for months over Turkey’s December agreement to buy the S-400, which is not interoperable with other NATO and U.S. military equipment. There are also fears that if the S-400 is used with the Turkish F-35, Russia may gain access to the aircraft’s technical data.
“The concern is that the F-35 is the most advanced aircraft, the most advanced NATO aircraft, and if Turkey goes forward with the acquisition of the S-400, it will allow the Russians to collect information on how to best attack an F-35 fighter,” the amendment’s co-sponsor, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), told CNN.
Ankara plans to buy eventually buy more than 100 F-35 Lightning II fighters. The nation has committed to buy the F-35A variant under the U.S.-led, multinational Joint Strike Fighter program.
The nation technically received its first two F-35As as part of an official ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, but will not have them on Turkish soil until its pilots are trained to fly the new aircraft. That training has just begun at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.
In the meantime, lawmakers in both chambers are working to block Turkey from taking the fifth-generation fighter out of the United States.
In addition to the move from Senate appropriators, the Senate’s version of the annual defense policy bill has two provisions targeting Turkey’s plans to purchase the F-35. Another provision would sanction Ankara if it goes through with the S-400 purchase. That bill was passed Monday.
The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed in May, would stop all weapons sales to the nation until the Pentagon analyzes worsening tensions between the two nations.
Despite the moves in Congress, Lockheed Martin went ahead with the F-35 transfer ceremony, attended by company executives, Turkish defense officials and Pentagon officials, including representatives from the F-35 joint program office.
At the event, the Turkish officials stressed that F-35s would be used in support of NATO.
Turkish Maj. Gen. Reha Ufuk Er said that Turkey’s F-35s are “a great asset to thwart future threats,” which will contribute to global stability and “significantly augment” NATO air capabilities.
And Turkey’s deputy undersecretary of defense industries, Serdar Demirel, said that the F-35 would help the nation “strengthen the deterrence of NATO.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis, meanwhile, doesn’t want Congress to block the F-35 deliveries to Turkey. Mattis is working with lawmakers to make sure that language preventing F-35 transfers does not get into the final version of the NDAA, CNN reported Tuesday.
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