USAF set to get Turkey's F-35s

Lockheed Martin F-35s ordered by Turkey are likely to be given to the US Air Force (USAF) now that the House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee chairman has given his support to a proposal by the Senate armed services committee.

Turkey was suspended from the international F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme after it took delivery of a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defence system in July last year, and Turkey has protested against that suspension. But now the US Senate legislative chamber has proposed in its version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization bill (NDAA) – an annual bill to authorise defence spending – that the USAF be given the six F-35s built so far for Turkey. The nation had planned to buy at least 100. Under the US legislative process, the two versions of the NDAA from the Senate and House of Representatives must be reconciled and a final joint-chamber bill voted through.

House of Representatives’ armed services committee chairman and Democratic party Congressman Adam Smith expressed his support for USAF getting the Turkish F-35s during a teleconference with the Defense Writers Group on June 30. "I think that is a reasonable solution, yes," Smith said. The Congressman for Washington State’s ninth district, Smith also supports a proposal by Senate armed services committee member, Senator John Thune, for the US to buy the S-400 system from Turkey.

Democratic party Congressman Adam Smith. Chairman of the House of Representatives armed services committee, spoke about the deal on a conference call on June 30.

Smith said: “I’d like to find a path back and…if in fact purchasing the S-400 system from Turkey will get them out from under their reliance on Russian systems and get us back to where they could be part of the F-35 programme, then I would very much be open to that.” He also expressed scepticism as Smith thinks Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has decided he needs the Russian system.

While there was a June 30, 2019, delivery ceremony at Lockheed Martin facilities in Fort Worth, Texas, the first few Turkish aircraft were then impounded. The NDAA’s legislative process will take many more weeks, so the final outcome is not known now, but Smith’s comments add weight to the expectation that USAF will be given those aircraft. The first, received, Turkish F-35 aircraft, serial 18-0001 (c/n AT-1), was due to go to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona for Turkish pilot training last year and then in November it was scheduled to go to Turkey.