The Pentagon will continue to depend on Turkish defense contractors for key components of the F-35 — from its center fuselage to 139 parts of its engine propulsion system — through 2022, according to U.S. defense officials.
It’s the Defense Department’s first public confirmation that the Trump administration has softened a pledge to oust Turkey from the fighter jet program by March of this year over its purchase of a Russian-built missile defense system known as the S-400.
“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the White House said in a statement last July 17.
Although Turkey is still banned from buying the plane built by Lockheed Martin Corp., Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement that a decision was made late last year “to honor existing contractual arrangements, and accept delivery of parts that were already on contract.”
The goal is to “avoid costly, disruptive, and wasteful contract terminations,” he said. The parts decision was mentioned in a single sentence in a report on the F-35 in May by the Government Accountability Office.
Alternate sources “have been identified for all Turkish-made parts and will be utilized as the Turkish contracts lapse and material is delivered,” Andrews said.
Turkey was an original F-35 partner. Its planned purchase of about 100 jets made it one of the four top foreign customers for the stealthy fighter — along with Japan, Australia and the U.K. — but it placed only six aircraft on contract before the U.S. relationship ruptured. The Senate’s version of the pending fiscal 2021 defense policy bill calls for converting those six for use by the U.S. Air Force.
“In line with Department of Defense guidance, Lockheed Martin continues moving away from Turkish suppliers” as “their existing contracts expire and fully qualified alternatives are identified,” company spokesman Brett Ashworth said in an email.
Turkey is a global leader in aerospace manufacturing, and 10 Turkish companies were on track to make about $12 billion in F-35 parts, including the center fuselage produced by Turkish Aerospace Industries, according to a 2018 analysis by Bloomberg Government. TAI also assembled weapons bay doors, and air-to-ground pylons used to carry equipment, according to information previously disclosed by Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed.
Turkish companies made 817 of the jet’s approximately 24,000 airframe part types and 188 of approximately 3,000 engine part types, according to Pentagon data.
Turkish-made parts for the F-35’s Pratt & Whitney engine propulsion system include electronic wiring harnesses, compressor rotor hubs, bracket assemblies for harnesses and seals for an air turbine, according to Andrews.
Although President Donald Trump has cultivated relations with Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan, he expressed concern in May about depending on other countries for major weapons. “We should make everything in the United States,” he told Fox Business, citing the F-35 as an example.
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