Esper: Here’s What Turkey Needs to Do to Get Back into F-35 Program

The F-35A Lightning II Demo Team commander and pilot practices the F-35 demonstration, Jan. 23, 2019 at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Aspen Reid)
The F-35A Lightning II Demo Team commander and pilot practices the F-35 demonstration, Jan. 23, 2019 at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Aspen Reid)

Turkey will need to take a series of significant steps before the U.S. would again consider allowing the NATO ally to rejoin the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet program, the Pentagon chief said Wednesday.

It has been about a month since the U.S. barred Turkey from purchasing the F-35 and began phasing out parts the country produces after officials there ordered the Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile system. 

But agreeing to store the system away isn't going to get Turkey back into the F-35 program, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said during a Pentagon press briefing.

"It's either the F-35 or the S-400 -- it's not both," he said. "It's not, 'park one in the garage and roll the other one out.' It's one or the other."

U.S. officials had long warned Turkey that purchasing the S-400 would threaten its place in the program. The S-400 poses a security threat since it could allow the Russians to collect information on the American-produced F-35 stealth fighter.

Related content:

Still, Turkey forged ahead with plans to train on and purchase the S-400, leading to the U.S. slamming the brakes on the country's plans to purchase 100 of the jet's A-variants. The U.S. also must find new suppliers for plane parts produced by Turkey, which officials told Military.com last month could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Esper called Turkish leaders' decision to choose the S-400 over the F-35 regrettable.

"Turkey's been a long-standing great partner and ally, and I would hope that they would move back in our direction, and really live up to what NATO agreed to many years ago. And that was to begin divesting of Soviet-era Russian equipment," the defense secretary said. "They seem to be moving in a different direction."

Despite the setback, Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said he still views Turkish military leaders as important allies to the U.S.

"This is what I tell my counterpart almost every time we meet. I say, 'Look, when I look at Turkey and the United States, it's very clear to me that we have many more areas of convergence than divergence,'" Dunford said. "And many of these areas of divergence are kind of near-term issues.

"Difficult issues, no question about it, but they're issues that we can work through. And so we try to focus on the horizon."

-- Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this report.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Show Full Article