US will keep buying F-35 parts from Turkey, despite Congress pressure
Senators want the Pentagon to remove Turkey from the supply chain over concerns its Nato partner is behaving irresponsibly
The US Department of Defence has no plans to speed Turkey’s exit from the F-35 fighter jets supply chain and will continue to acquire parts until 2022, although Congress has increased pressure on the Pentagon to abandon those contracts.
A letter signed by US senators on Monday urged Secretary of Defence Mark Esper to stop sourcing parts from Turkey. It said Ankara was “not behaving like a responsible actor or working collaboratively with the West”.
A defence department official told The National on condition of anonymity on Wednesday that honouring contracts with Turkey will continue until 2022 to avoid disruptions to the supply chain
The date is two years beyond the timeframe the Pentagon had envisioned.
Turkey was removed from the F-35 consortium in 2019 after it bought the Russian S-400 missile defence system.
The US also ended its F-35 training programme for Turkey and blocked the transfer of those aircraft to Ankara.
The National Defence Authorisation Act signed by President Donald Trump last December prohibited those transfers of parts, but the Pentagon is looking away for now, despite pressure from Congress urging that the Turkish connection be severed.
A bipartisan group of senators wrote to Mr Esper, urging him “to remove Turkey from the supply chain of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter”.
The letter, signed by Republicans James Lankford and Thom Tillis and Democrats Jeanne Shaheen and Chris Van Hollen, said: “From human rights violations in Syria to arbitrary arrests of Americans in Ankara to defence cooperation with Russia, Turkey is not behaving like a responsible actor or working collaboratively with the West at the level we expect from a Nato ally.”
Turkey was a member of the F-35 consortium since 2002, alongside the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Turkey, Australia, Norway and Denmark.
The senators said that continuing the contracts hurt US geopolitical efforts. "By keeping Turkish manufacturers in the supply chain two years after the initial statute took effect  and well beyond the Pentagon’s self-imposed deadline, the department is impeding our nation’s diplomatic and geopolitical efforts to pressure Turkey to reverse course.”
Aaron Stein, research director at The Foreign Policy Research Institute, regarded the Pentagon’s decision to continue importing components as a matter of necessity rather than policy.
“Turkey makes single-sourced parts and replacing them, which includes certifying new suppliers, takes time,” Mr Stein told The National.
“The F-35 programme will last for decades, and a two-year unwind of Turkish suppliers won’t matter in the long run,” he said, citing Covid-19 disruptions as an added complication for defence contractors.
Turkey could also face more sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which was passed overwhelmingly in 2017 to punish any significant transactions with Russia.
Turkey has been unrepentant in its acquisition of S-400 and tested it against F-16 fighter jets in November.
But when it came to Turkey, President Donald Trump, who has fostered a close relationship with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and is negotiating a major trade deal with Ankara, opted to delay the imposition of these sanctions.
Updated: July 8, 2020 10:59 PM