U.S. military confirms purchase of Turkish F-35 fighter jets, ending speculation

The U.S. military has confirmed it will purchase Turkish F-35 fighter jets, ending speculation after Turkey was expelled from the joint strike fighter programme last year, Defense News reported on Tuesday.

The U.S. Air Force will buy eight F-35A conventional jets originally built by Lockheed Martin for Turkey as part of an $862 million contract.

The deal also contains an additional six F-35As built with modifications that will bring the Turkish aircraft in line with the U.S. configurations, Defense News said.

Turkey had planned to buy 100 F-35As, and took ceremonial delivery of the first two in June 2018. The planes were delivered to the Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona, where Turkish pilots and maintainers were training to fly and fix them.

But the aircraft were never officially delivered to Turkey, and there has been much speculation over the fate of Turkey’s jets since.

Turkey was ejected from the programme last July after purchasing the S-400 air defence system from Russia in defiance of U.S. and NATO concerns that it is not compatible with NATO systems and threatens the stealth capabilities of the new fighter jets.

Turkey has disputed this and said that the S-400s will not be integrated into NATO’s defences. Turkey had previously said it would make the Russian missile defence systems operational in April, but such a move had not yet been made.

In January, Defense One reported that 24 Turkish F-35s were in some stage of production, but top Pentagon weapons buyer Ellen Lord told reporters then that Washington and Ankara had not come to an agreement on what would happen to them.

Under the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, U.S. Congress gave the Pentagon permission to fly the first six Turkish F-35s to a location where they could be stored until the department came up with a plan for their use, Defense News said.

The F-35 programme stems from efforts started in the 1990s, and was designed to produce planes not only for the United States, but also for its key allies who would help foot the bill for developing the jet, in exchange for contracts to produce components.

The programme was intended to have operational benefits, as it would be easier to send information and coordinate military engagements if U.S. allies were using the same jet.

Turkish officials have continued to say that Turkey's partnership in the programme was not over and it would return to participate.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last July, days before Turkey was officially suspended via a White House announcement, that a refusal by the United States to hand over the F-35 fighter jets that Turkey had purchased would violate the terms of the contract and amount to theft.

Turkey had so far reportedly paid $1.4 billion for the F-35s. Turkish companies would continue producing some parts for the jets throughout 2020, even though the United States had planned to fully move production away from Turkey by March, Defense One reported earlier this year.

Turkey was recently removed from the list of "global participants" on the official website of the F-35 joint strike fighter programme. 

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