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US to cut ties with Turkey on F-35 programme, shift supply chain to US

18 July 2019
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A TZM 22T6E2 ‘freight loading unit', or missile loader, on a Ural-532361 truck is shown leaving a Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations (EMERCOM) Il-76 after it landed at Mürted Air Base, northwest of Ankara, on 12 July 2019. Source: Turkish MoD

Washington will spend between USD500 million and USD600 million to shift part of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter supply chain out of Turkey, as part of its plan to remove the nation from the programme.

Five days after Turkey accepted the Russian S-400 surface-to-air (SAM) long-range air defence and missile systems, the Trump Administration broke its silence and announced that it would follow through on its threat to curtail Ankara's participation in the F-35 effort.

"Unfortunately, Turkey's decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible," the White House said in a statement on 17 July.

Ellen Lord, the US Department of Defense's undersecretary of defence for acquisition and sustainment, and David Trachtenberg, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, held a Pentagon press briefing after the announcement to flush out the details of what this will mean for the programme but deferred to discuss potential sanctions.

"Turkey cannot field a Russian intelligence collection platform in proximity to where the F-35 programme makes repairs and houses the F-35," Lord told reporters. "Much of the F-35 strength lies in its stealth capabilities so the ability to detect those capabilities would jeopardize the long-term security of the F 35 programme."

The United States has suspended Ankara from the aircraft effort while it initiates the process to formally remove the nation from the programme. The move will have a significant impact on the supply chain since nearly 900 aircraft parts, including the centre fuselage and the cockpit display, are produced inside the country. Lord said that between now and the end of March 2020, the Pentagon will "unwind" Turkey's participation in the F-35 programme and spend between USD500 million and USD600 million in "non-recurring engineering" costs to shift the supply chain.

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