Turkey Still Important Part of F-35 Team, For Now

Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe/NATO Andrew Winternitz hold a press briefing at the Pentagon on June 7, 2019, to discuss Turkey's future participation in the F-35 program and continued military-to-military relations. DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando.

LE BOURGET, France—Lockheed Martin still considers Turkey an integral part of the F-35 team, even though the country has not made any efforts to reverse its plan to buy the Russian-made S-400 air defense system and it faces imminent removal from the program altogether.

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition Ellen Lord told reporters at the Paris Air Show that since her June 7 announcement of plans to “unwind” Turkey from the F-35, nothing has changed. Although she emphasized that plan is still reversible and Turkey remains a “strong” NATO ally, beginning next month Turkish pilots and personnel will be kicked out of the US and those in training at Luke AFB, Ariz., already have been grounded.

For the time being, the program of record stands and Turkey remains a partner, Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of the F-35 program, told reporters during a briefing here.

“They’re an outstanding member of the program, still,” Ulmer said. “There’s been no contract change.”

The debate is a “government-to-government” decision, and the factories in Turkey are still producing parts and materiel for the program, Ulmer said. “All that work is in flow, airplanes are already in production.”

Lockheed had planned to deliver two aircraft to Turkey this summer. Those aircraft are still at Luke and there has been no direction to the program on moving them.

Meanwhile, Turkish Aerospace on June 17 unveiled a mockup of the “TF-X,” a homegrown future fighter jet the company claimed during a brief but celebratory event would be the “best in Europe.” The mockup on display at the Paris Air Show has components similar to the F-35, especially the center fuselage, because Turkish companies currently produce that component for the Joint Strike Fighter. However, the mockup has two engines that appear to have thrust vectoring nozzles.