US bill could block sale of F-35 jets to Turkey

The legal amendment is an attempt to halt Turkey from purchasing S-400 defence systems from Russia.
Friday 22/06/2018
A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet is seen in its hanger at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland, U.S., October 28, 2015. (Reuters)
A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet is seen in its hanger at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland, U.S., October 28, 2015. (Reuters)

A recently passed spending bill in US Congress aims to block Turkey's planned purchase of US-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, unless the country drops a bid to buy Russia’s S-400 defence system.

The measure is an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2019 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act.

If the amendment becomes law, the measure would block the transfer of F-35s to Turkey until the secretary of state certifies that Turkey will not accept deliveries of the Russian systems.

Relations between Ankara and Washington have been strained over a host of issues in recent months, with US policy in Syria and a number of legal cases involving Turkish and US nationals giving cause for tension. The US also opposes Turkey's launching an offensive against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which the US backs in the fight against the Islamic State group but which Ankara considers a terror group.

The proposed law is the latest effort by Congress members to halt NATO ally Turkey from going ahead with its plan to buy the Russian defence system. A similar measure was included in a US defence policy bill already making its way through the legislature.

Turkey's move to buy S-400s, which are incompatible with NATO systems, has unnerved NATO member countries, which are already wary of Moscow’s military presence in the Middle East.

“Turkey’s acquisition of both systems would allow the Russians to more easily evaluate the capabilities of the F-35 and detect and exploit its vulnerabilities. That is unacceptable,” Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, who backed the amendment, said in a statement.

The spending bill is several steps from becoming law. It must still be approved by the full Senate and House of Representatives, and signed by President Donald Trump.

If both chambers of the US Congress approve that version of the bill, President Donald Trump's administration will be obliged to exclude Turkey from the F-35 program, remove any parts of the aircraft made in Turkey and ban the Turkish F-35s from leaving US territory.

Despite the amendment, government and Lockheed Martin officials held a ceremony on Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas, to mark the “roll out” of a the first F-35A Lightning II jet as part of its Turkish programme.

A US defence official stressed that "after aircraft production, the US government maintains custody of the aircraft until custody is transferred to the partner."

"This normally occurs after the lengthy process of foreign partner training is complete (one-two years)," the official added.

Launched in the early 1990s, the F-35 is considered the most expensive weapons system in US history, with an estimated cost of some $400 billion and a goal to produce 2,500 aircraft in the coming years.

Arab Weekly Staff and Agencies