Military Capabilities

US outlines plan for unwinding Turkey F-35 participation

09 June 2019

The United States will force Turkish F-35 student pilots to leave the country by 31 July if it continues to move forward with acquisition of the S-400 air-defence system, US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said in a 6 June letter. Source: IHS Markit/Peter Felstead

Key Points

  • The US is laying the groundwork for kicking Turkey out of the F-35 programme if it insists on buying the S-400
  • Turkish test pilots on US soil would be forced to leave the country by the end of July

Turkish pilots training in the United States to fly the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) will have to leave the country by 31 July if Turkey moves forward with acquisition of the Russian S-400 air-defence system.

US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan outlined his plan to remove Turkey from the F-35 programme in a 6 June letter to Turkish Minister of National Defence Hulusi Akar. The 31 July pilot training deadline will allow many, but not all, Turkish F-35 student pilots to complete their courses in the US. The US has also informed Turkey that it will not recommend starting any new training programmes for Turkish personnel on the F-35 in the US as it anticipates they would be recalled soon.

The US is not planning for Turkish participation in the F-35 chief executive officer roundtable on 12 June and that planned updates to the programme's governing documents would proceed without Turkey's participation.

The US is still giving Turkey the option of remaining in the F-35 programme.

"While we seek to maintain our valued relationship, Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400," Shanahan said. "You still have the option to change course on the S-400."

The US will continue to suspend indefinitely F-35 material deliveries and activities. Turkey's current workshare in the programme will be transitioned to alternate sources as they are qualified.

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