Turkish F-35 fighters undergo technical maintenance every month

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A Turkish news source, Aydınlık, reports that the United States is requesting compensation for the maintenance of F-35 fighter jets. These aircraft, which have not been delivered to Turkey, have been kept in storage for six consecutive years. 

Photo credit: Twitter

This request pertains to a total sum of approximately $30 million. These aircraft require consistent monthly technical upkeep. The United States put forth this request for upkeep and maintenance funds for the first time in 2022. 

The issue resurfaced from the United States’ side after Ankara proposed to offset a part of the expenditure for a fresh $23 billion US military gear order with the funds already allocated for the F-35 fighter jets. Turkey’s plan involves procuring 40 new F-16 Block 70 aircraft, 79 upgrade kits, 48 F110 engines, and a broad variety of ammunition from the United States. 

Photo credit: RAAF / X

Arbitration is closed 

When Turkey was removed from the F-35 fifth-generation strike fighter joint production program, a project it had originally partnered in, the initial approach was to rejoin the project via various lobbying companies. Turkey then sought other methods like arbitration. 

Interestingly, the text of the F-35 agreement, signed in 2007 by the then Minister of National Defense, Vejdi Gonul, explicitly states that any discord is not subject to appeal in international courts. Section 17 of the agreement’s text specifies: “Any disputes arising between the parties related to this memorandum of understanding are to be resolved exclusively through mutual discussion among participants, and may not be taken to any individual, national court, international court or any other entity.” 

Photo by Aijaz Rahi / AP

Given this stipulation, the process of reclaiming payments through arbitration appeared to be both challenging and protracted. Consequently, Turkey opted for the compensation tactic in line with the F-16 order. This approach allowed for the funds previously reserved for the F-35 to finance the final order instead. However, the US maintains that it owes nothing.

Turkish F-35s in the Hangar 

Originally, the Turkish Air Force expressed its intention to acquire a total of 100 F-35s, having officially arranged for an initial order of 30 F-35 Lightning IIs. Following the plan, the delivery of 2 aircraft was expected in 2018, with a subsequent increase to 4 in 2019, and 8 each in the years spanning 2020 through 2022. 

Photo credit: UK MoD

This strategy also included a scheme for 34 Turkish pilots to travel to the US for specialized F-35 training. However, these plans came to a screeching halt when the US decided to impose an embargo and CAATSA sanctions against Turkey. The reason behind this move was Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system. 

Against this backdrop of sanctions, six F-35As slated for the Turkish Air Force had finished production when the embargo was announced. With the evolving circumstances, Turkey was officially expelled from the F-35 program as of September 2021. Despite this significant turn of events, Turkey had already incurred a substantial expenditure of US$1.4 billion under the program. 

Let’s Recall 

In an unprecedented move, the US excised Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program. This is a direct result of Ankara’s decision to acquire the Russian S-400 air defense system. The US, along with other NATO allies, voiced their concerns that the S-400 system could expose F-35 technology to potential security risks. 

It’s important to understand that Turkey’s expulsion was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. It followed a long line of diplomatic instances and ongoing disagreements. The US had persistently warned Turkey about the potential repercussions of the S-400 acquisition. 

The core concern for the US and NATO was the potential of the S-400 as a tool for Russia to secretly obtain classified F-35 information. The S-400, as one of the world’s most sophisticated missile defense systems, could abuse its radar capabilities to expose the intricacies of the F-35’s capabilities. 

Photo credit: Twitter

Heightening the reason for Turkey’s ejection was the looming threat of geopolitical instability. Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 was perceived as a step towards closer alignment with Russia, threatening to upset the regional power balance. 

Last, but not least, it’s worth noting that internal politics within the US played a role in affirming Turkey’s exclusion from the F-35 program. A bipartisan agreement in Congress backed the decision, insisting that Turkey needed to face the consequences of its controversial S-400 purchase.

Turkey “under scrutiny” due to the F-16 

Photo credit: AFP

US Senator Chris Van Hollen, highly respected in the Senate, revealed that he had obtained specific assurances from President Biden regarding Turkey’s conduct concerning the delivery of F-16s. Van Hollen is compelling Biden’s administration to clarify to Turkey that any breach of conditions will undoubtedly result in consequences. 

The official announcement from the US State Department to Congress about the planned sale of 40 F-16 Block 70 fighter jets, coupled with 79 upgrade kits and a massive amount of ammunition to Turkey, became a subject of debate in the Senate. 

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee empowered to approve the sale, chimed in on the issue. He tackled a variety of sensitive concerns, ranging from Turkey’s Air Force’s flights over the Aegean Sea to its operations in Northern Syria, and even addressed Azerbaijan’s stance towards Armenia. Van Hollen asserted, “Without a doubt, we must monitor Turkey closely in the upcoming weeks.” 

Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

The US may cease the supply of F-16s 

A study released by the Congressional Research Service on March 31, 2023, suggests that it may take up to 3 years before Turkey sees any F-16 deliveries. The report specifies that Lockheed Martin’s monthly production capacity at their South Carolina plant is four F-16s, and stated, “…notable recipients or potential recipients of the F-16V model include Greece, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Morocco, Bahrain, Jordan, and Bulgaria,” as well as the Philippines and Slovakia. Given the completion of the contracts relating to Jordan and Bulgaria, Lockheed might have over 148 aircraft in their backlog. The report read: “Based on the current production rate, Turkey might have to wait three years or more before they start receiving the latest F-16V models.” 

Cited report also offered a warning, suggesting that the procurement could face potential discontinuation if Turkey opts to “work against U.S. interests” during the waiting period. The report stated the following: “The approval of the sale does not limit either Congress or the administration’s prerogative to halt or adjust the sale, should Turkey decide to act against U.S. interests in the future.” 

Photo credit: Twitter

The report urges Turkey to refrain from starting another round of ground operations in Syria, curb their “excessive” Aegean Sea flights, sever military ties with Russia, and halt any attempts to dissolve the HDP.

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