U.S. Removes Turkey From F-35 Program Over Purchase of Russian Air Defense System

Washington is concerned that deploying S-400 with F-35 fighter jets would allow Russia to gain too much inside information of stealth system

A U.S. F-35A fighter jet prepares to land at Chungju Air Base in Chungju, South Korea, March 29, 2019
Kang Jong-min,AP

The United States said on Wednesday that it was removing Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program, a move that had been long threatened and expected after Ankara began accepting delivery of an advanced Russian missile defense system last week.

"The U.S. and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the program and initiate the process to formally remove Turkey from the program," said Ellen Lord, the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment. 

The White House said earlier in a statement, "The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities." It said Turkey's decision to purchase the Russian S-400 air defense system renders its continued involvement in the F-35 joint strike fighter program impossible. 

The White House sought to downplay the impact of the decision on the U.S. relationship with Turkey, saying that Washington still "greatly values" its strategic relationship with Ankara.

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"As NATO allies, our relationship is multi-layered, and not solely focused on the F-35. Our military-to-military relationship is strong, and we will continue to cooperate with Turkey extensively, mindful of constraints due to the presence of the S-400 system in Turkey," the White House said in its statement.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday it was "not fair" to either Turkey or the United States that Washington cannot sell Ankara billions of dollars worth of F-35 fighter jets after Turkey bought a Russian air defense system.

Turkey started taking delivery of Russia's S-400 air defense system last week in defiance of U.S. warnings that doing so would mean the Pentagon would kick it out of the F-35 stealth fighter program and that it could be subject to sanctions.

Washington is concerned that deploying the S-400 with the F-35 would allow Russia to gain too much inside information of the stealth system of the advanced technology fighter.