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Turkey decries its exclusion from US F-35 stealth fighter programme

ANKARA (Turkey): Turkey has decried the US decision to exclude it from the US F-35 stealth fighter programme.

Turkey said that it had been kicked out without justification.

Turkish Air Force personnel, who had been training on the next-generation jet, were required to have left the United States earlier this week following the arrival of the Russian-made S-400 missile system in Turkey last month.

Turkish companies were involved in the programme since its inception in 2001 and the country has invested $1.4bn into the development of the fighter with NATO allies.

“From the beginning, when we entered this programme, we have fulfilled our commitments,” Hami Aksoy, Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said at a televised news conference in Ankara.

“We are not a customer of the F-35 programme, we are its owners. While there’s no apparent justified reason or legal grounds, we are trying to be pushed out. This is not an acceptable situation. If we are pushed out of this process, we will have to try other ways.”

Washington has raised objection over Turkey’s decision to buy the S-400 system, saying that operating it alongside the F-35 would compromise the fighter’s hi-tech secrets. It said it will not allow F-35s to operate in airspace where the Russian system is active.

In turn, Moscow has offered to sell Turkey its most advanced fighter, the Su-35.

Although about 40 Turkish air and ground crew are no longer involved in F-35 training – and another 20 Turkish staff have been cut from a joint office in Washington, DC – Turkish companies continue to be involved in providing more than 950 F-35 parts.

This has led to many observers seeing a sliver of a chance that Turkey could rejoin the programme.

Last week, Lockheed-Martin, the US company overseeing F-35 production, said the involvement of Turkish companies would end completely by March 2020.

The S-400 system, according to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, would be operational the following month.

“For the US, the process of kicking Turkey completely out will extend to March 2020, which is one month before the deployment of the S-400, according to President Erdogan,” said Ali Bakeer, an Ankara-based political analyst and consultant.

“Theoretically, there’s still time to save this issue. Diplomatic doors haven’t closed.”