Here’s The Pentagon’s Roadmap For Booting Turkey Out Of The F-35 Program

Within a matter of days, the Pentagon will begin “unwinding” Turkey from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program unless it immediately halts plans to acquire the S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Russia. If authorities in Ankara do not change course on that deal, by the end of July 2019, Acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan says Turkish pilots will be fully gone from the F-35 training program in the United States, the country’s liaisons will be barred from even entering the central Joint Program Office, and efforts will begin to cut Turkish companies out of the international supply chain for the jets for good.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan made the situation clear to his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar in a letter dated June 6, 2019, which multiple outlets subsequently obtained. Ellen Lord, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisitions and Sustainment, offered additional details in a press conference on June 7, 2019.

“Turkey still has the option to change course,” Lord explained. “If Turkey does not accept delivery of the S-400, we will enable Turkey to return to normal F-35 program activities.”

“While we seek to maintain our valued relationship, Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400,” Shanahan had said bluntly in his letter to Akar. You can read his full letter below:


The U.S. government, along with other members of the NATO Alliance, see the purchase as an unacceptable operational security risk that could potentially give Russia a way to obtain critical details about the F-35 and its capabilities, especially its stealthy qualities. The United State and others also underscore that the Russian-made air defense system is not compatible with NATO standards and could impede Turkey’s ability to operate together with the rest of the Alliance in future operations.

Shanahan attached a fact sheet of measures the Pentagon is taking against Turkey to his letter. The most immediate impact is that the U.S. government has disinvited Turkish representatives from the annual F-35 CEO Roundtable on June 12, 2019.

There will also be no approval for additional Turkish personnel to come to the United States to train on the F-35, because, as the fact sheet notes, if Turkey isn’t getting any Joint Strike Fighters, “there are no longer requirements to gain proficiencies on the systems.” The Pentagon has already blocked the delivery of any further F-35-related materials to Turkey, including two additional jets.

An F-35 heads out from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona on a training mission., USAF

“We control what is downloaded from our computers, we have shared what’s appropriate,” Lord added during the press conference. “The Turks have no critical documentation that we are concerned about.”

All Turkish personnel currently in the United States in relation to the F-35 program must leave the country by July 31, 2019. At that time, the U.S. military will cancel their credentials and they won’t be able to get into either Eglin Air Force Base in Florida or Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where various F-35-related training occurs. Turkish personnel will also be barred from the main Joint Program Office in Washington, D.C.

You can read the full fact sheet below:


Untangling Turkish companies from the F-35 supply chain will take longer, but Undersecretary of Defense Lord said that this would involve “disciplined and graceful wind down” of all of the existing contracts by early 2020. Turkey would find itself blocked from receiving any additional F-35-related contracts.

Turkey has already invested $1.25 billion in the F-35 program and, in return, had expected to receive billions in industrial offsets over the program’s lifecycle. Turkish companies are responsible for the production of various structural components on the jets, as well as portions of the Pratt and Whitney F135 engine that powers them. Turkish firms are solely responsible for making a total of 400 different parts for the F-35, Lord said. This includes electronics company AYESAŞ is the sole provider of the aircraft’s panoramic cockpit display.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan recently said it would be impossible for the F-35 program to continue without Turkish participation. “If we can work to our timelines with the Turks, we would have no major disruptions and very few delays,” Lord made clear during the press conference.

All told, Turkey’s potential for continued involvement in the F-35 program looks increasingly bleak. Turkish officials have also repeatedly stressed that the S-400 purchase is a done deal that cannot be undone and that opinion seems unlikely to change. 

Components of an S-400 system, including three transporter-erector-launchers in the foreground and a mobile radar in the background., Sergei Malgavko—Sergei Malgavko/TASS

Separately, on June 7, 2019, Sergei Chemezov, head of Rostec, Russia’s main state-run industrial conglomerate, which includes the country’s state-operated arms enterprises, said Turkey had already made down payments on their S-400s. Perhaps more importantly, he added that Ankara had already spent the entirety of a low-interest loan that the Kremlin had included to help finance the deal. Turkish military personnel are now in Russia training on the S-400, too. 

It’s worth noting that Chemezov has offered to sell Turkey Su-57 advanced combat jets if the F-35 deal collapses. Erdogan and Chemezov both have talked about Turkish cooperation on the S-500 air defense system, as well.

A Russian Su-57 fighter jet., Dmitry Terekhov/Wikicommons

The fallout from the S-400 deal may not be limited to Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program, either. In his letter, Acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan noted that the Pentagon’s actions were separate from actions Congress was looking to take, including hitting the Turkish government with sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAASTA. Legislators have previously voiced concerns over a host of other issues, largely linked to Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian domestic policies, which you can read more about here.

In addition, the entire debacle can only call into question Turkey’s continued relationship with NATO, even though the Alliance’s senior leadership continues to publicly stress the value of Turkish contributions. “Turkey’s procurement of the S-400 will hinder your nation’s ability to enhance or maintain cooperation with the United States and within NATO, lead to Turkish strategic and economic over-dependence on Russia, and undermine Turkey’s very capable defense industry and ambitious economic development goals,” Shanahan warned.

There are already growing calls to remove U.S. nuclear weapons from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, as well as reduce American presence at that base, as well as others in the country. Turkey is also a partner on a number of other U.S. military weapon system programs, which could become the target of additional Congressional action if it appears that Erdogan is moving deeper into the Kremlin’s sphere of influence.

The full extent of American sanctions on Turkey and other restrictions on existing and future partnerships of any kind with the Turkish government remains to be seen. But, if nothing else, the country looks well on its way to getting kicked out of the F-35 program for good.

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Joseph Trevithick Avatar

Joseph Trevithick

Deputy Editor

Joseph has been a member of The War Zone team since early 2017. Prior to that, he was an Associate Editor at War Is Boring, and his byline has appeared in other publications, including Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defense Journal, Reuters, We Are the Mighty, and Task & Purpose.