US Pushes to Exclude Turkey from the F-35, Woos Poland

A Marine F-35B Lightning II from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort, S.C. flies over the White House on June 12, 2019, to honor Polish President Andrzej Duda. Marine Corps photo by SSgt. James R. Skelton.

The US pushed further to exclude one long-term partner in the F-35 program the same day as it publicly reached out to another potential customer with a June 12 flyover in downtown Washington.

The F-35 Joint Program Office took the first step in “unwinding” its relationship with Turkey by excluding the country from a meeting of program chief executive officers in Arlington, Va. because the nation plans to buy the Russian S-400 air defense system over the objections of its NATO and F-35 partners.

Ellen Lord, Pentagon chief of acquisition and sustainment, said June 7 that Turkey would be excluded from the annual meeting and that “planned updates to the program’s governing documents will proceed without Turkey’s participation.” On the agenda for this week’s meeting were steps to be taken as the program nears full-rate production later this year, as well as the “handshake deal” on the next three lots of F-35 production. Lockheed Martin said earlier this week that the deal would lower prices to below $80 million a jet a year ahead of the previously planned 2020 deadline.

Other steps to exclude Turkey include the immediate, indefinite suspension of transferring any parts, equipment, or technical information. Turkish pilots will also withdraw from F-35A training at Eglin AFB, Fla. and Luke AFB, Ariz. by the end of July, and Turkish employees must also leave the JPO by July 31. Leadership at Luke grounded Turkish F-35 pilots in training and blocked their access to secure locations.

If Turkey doesn’t cancel its planned purchase of the S-400 surface-to-air missile system, Lord said she expects to cut all F-35 industrial ties by early 2020.

Lord said the US hasn’t determined what to do with four aircraft already built and delivered to train Turkey’s pilots in America. They won’t be delivered to Turkish soil, she noted.

Across the Potomac River from the CEOs’ meeting, a Marine Corps F-35B put on a short flight display near the White House, where Polish President Andrzej Duda was meeting with US President Donald Trump. Duda’s government has announced plans to buy 32 Joint Strike Fighters.

To showcase the aircraft, the F-35B made high-speed turns and demonstrated slow flight and hovers with its short takeoff/vertical landing system. Two jets—one that flew the demonstration and a spare—made the trip from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., to D.C.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said “we appreciate Poland’s plan to purchase this exceptional aircraft and welcome the opportunity for DOD demonstration pilots to showcase the F-35 while logging required training hours.”

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said June 11 on Twitter that Poland has officially requested the purchase of conventional takeoff F-35As through the US foreign military sales program. He wrote that Poland will soon “join the elite group of countries using the best” fighter.

A delegation including Blaszczak and Duda visited Eglin on June 11 to try out simulators and sit in aircraft. Blaszczak also visited with his American counterpart, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, at the Pentagon on June 12.