Exclusion from F-35 program to cost Turkish defense firms billions

Defense companies involved in the production of F-35 stealth fighter jets are to lose work worth billions of dollars after Turkey’s exclusion from the program due to its recent purchase of a Russian defense system, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Eight Turkish firms have been helping to produce the advanced fighter jets by supplying hundreds of items, including parts for cockpit display systems and landing gear, amounting to approximately $9 billion over the course of the program, the Pentagon said.

Reuters said that the companies Roketsan, Havelsan, Alp Aviation, Ayesas, Kale Aerospace, Tubitak-SAGE, the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), and the Turkish leg of the Dutch Fokker Elmo, were not immediately available to comment on the issue.

Ismail Demir, head of Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate on Thursday stated that the US call to move the work elsewhere and the potential for additional sanctions would only be temporary setbacks for the companies.

He argued that the companies would assess how to compensate for their losses and could emerge stronger in the long run.

In April, Kale Group expressed that if Turkey were to be removed from the F-35 project, any lost sales would be offset by turning to civil aviation.

However, analysts emphasized that the US move was an immense blow to the companies that worked on the production of the F-35 aircraft for a decade and would also limit Turkey’s access to new defense technology.

“I don’t know how companies will try to compensate for this, as they have been part of an established production chain since 2007,” Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe and a former Turkish diplomat, told Reuters.

Finding fast alternatives to such highly specialized work is not easy, Ulgen warned.

“What can a factory that produces a part for the body of the F-35 do? What can it change into? Where can it go? This isn’t the automotive sector, where you make a part for a BMW and then sell it to Ford when there is a change,” Ulgen explained.

He highlighted that the F-35 move wasn’t a determining decision on its own, but an important indication on the direction of the relations between the two NATO allies in the current context.

“The Turkish-American ties are more damaged than we have seen in our recent history,” Ulgen noted.

Deputy Chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Unal Cevikoz, has underlined in a statement that many jobs were at stake due to the decision to cancel work, according to the contracts, worth $12 billion.

“These firms have almost 30,000 employees. What are these people going to do?” he questioned on Thursday.

The Pentagon on Wednesday announced Turkey’s suspension from the F-35 project, adding that more than 900 parts produced by Turkish firms would be transferred to mainly US factories in a move that would cost the country between $500 million and $600 million.

According to Russian news agencies, head of Russian state corporation Rostec, Sergei Chemezov, said that Russia would be ready to supply its SU-35 fighter jets to Turkey if Ankara wants them.

Turkey began taking delivery of the first parts of the S-400 Russian air defense system on Friday, sealing the deal made with Moscow in 2017 and marking a breach with the US and other NATO allies.

For months, Washington had warned and threatened Ankara that it would act in the event that Turkey buys the Russian S-400 missile defense systems.

The US, as well as other NATO countries involved in the F-35 program, argue that the Russian S-400’s radar and tracking software would undermine the F-35’s stealth capabilities if the two were deployed together.

But the Turkish government dismissed those concerns, offering that the two countries should set up a working group to evaluate any threat posed by the Russian defense systems.

In addition to losing its role as a producer for the fighter jets, Turkey also faces sanctions under a 2017 law known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Washington also canceled Ankara’s planned purchase of more than 100 F-35s and halted any new training for Turkish pilots on the advanced aircraft.

The consequences that will follow Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 system could further damage the country’s defense industry, deal another blow to an economy already in recession and accelerate its drift away from its Western allies, Reuters said.

US initiates Turkey’s removal from F-35 program after its S-400 purchase

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