The United States has announced that Turkey’s process of expulsion from the F-35 fighter jet program has started following Ankara’s purchase of the advanced Russian air defense system last week, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
The US move, which had been threatened and expected for months, came less than a week after the first parts of the S-400 system on Friday flew to the Murted military airbase northwest of Ankara.
The delivery, accepted last week, sealed Ankara’s deal with Moscow, which was signed in 2017 and has since stirred up conflict between the two NATO allies, Turkey and the US.
The Turkish government did not back out of its plan to buy the Russian defense system despite months of strong disapproval, with senior US officials repeatedly issuing warnings and threats to impose sanctions.
Once the S-400 deal appeared to be going Washington then voiced the possibility that the acquisition of S-400 may lead to Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 stealth fighter jet program.
“The U.S. and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the program and initiate the process to formally remove Turkey from the program,” said Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.
“The United States is spending between $500 and $600 million in non-recurring engineering in order to shift the supply chain,” she added.
The F-35 aircraft, the world’s most advanced jet fighter, is used by NATO and other US allies.
Washington, as well as other NATO member countries, are worried that deploying the S-400 with the F-35 would allow Russia to obtain too much inside information of the F-35 stealth system.
They have also argued that the Russian system is not compatible with the defense network of NATO.
The White House said in a statement earlier on Wednesday that the F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence-collection platform that will be used to learn about its “advanced capabilities.”
Army Secretary Mark Esper, US President Donald Trump’s nominee to become the next secretary of defense, on Tuesday described Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400 as “disappointing.”
However, Trump also underlined on Tuesday that “it’s not fair” for the US to be banned from selling Turkey “billions of dollars’ worth of aircraft because they bought a Russian missile.”
The Pentagon’s plan to remove Turkey from the F-35 program includes halting any new training for Turkish pilots on the advanced aircraft.
“The situation with Turkey is a government-to-government matter and we’ll comply with any guidance issued by the United States Government,” said a spokesperson for Lockheed Martin Corp., the prime contractor on the fighter jet.