A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II sits on the flight line during pre-Initial Operational Testing and Evaluation on Jan. 23, 2018 (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson)

The United States will purchase eight F-35 fighter jets originally produced for Turkey, the Defense Department announced yesterday, in a glimpse of what the Pentagon may intend to do with the undelivered fifth-generation fighter aircraft.

The US Air Force will purchase the F-35s as part of a nearly $862 million contract modification with Lockheed Martin, which built the aircraft for Ankara.

Turkey unveiled its first Joint Strike Fighter delivery in 2018, but the United States expelled Turkey from the F-35 program the following year after Ankara purchased Russia’s S-400 air defense system despite repeated warnings from Washington.

The United States later said other completed aircraft would not be delivered but that Turkey could rejoin the F-35 program if it returns the S-400 to Russia. The dispute marked a low point in relations between the NATO allies. Washington has threatened to sanction Ankara if it activates the Russian-made air defense system.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened late last year to close US access to Turkish air bases at Incirlik and Kurecik in response to a US Senate resolution that recognized the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

US lawmakers last year authorized the military to purchase some of Turkey’s F-35s in the fiscal year 2020, urging that they be updated to match interoperability standards with other US Air Force F-35s.

Eight of Turkey’s F-35s were “realigned” to the US Air Force on Monday, Jessica Maxwell, a Pentagon spokesperson, told Al-Monitor via email. The contract modification also allocated funds for Lockheed Martin to upgrade the aircraft and paves the way for the Air Force to obtain six additional F-35s for a total of 14.

Maxwell did not respond to a request for clarification as to whether the purchase would affect the more than $1 billion Turkey initially put toward joining the F-35 program.

The Pentagon has said it will continue to purchase Turkish-manufactured parts for the F-35 through 2022, despite a rebuke from members of Congress. A US government watchdog agency reported in May that ending the production contracts with Turkey prematurely would exacerbate the F-35s already-deficient supply chain.

Source: Al Monitor, July 21, 2020