U.S. Congress and Pentagon to decide what to do with F-35s intended for Turkey

U.S. Congress is offering the Defense Department the option to purchase Turkey's F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and giving the Defense Secretary discretion to spend up to $30 million to store these aircraft until a plan for their use is formalized, according to the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2020, Oriana Pawlyk reports on Military.com.

U.S. Congress and Pentagon to decide what to do with F 35s intended for Turkey Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II (Picture source: U.S. Air Force)

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has been given the green light to spend funds "to be appropriated for fiscal year 2020 for the Department of Defense to conduct activities associated with storage, preservation, and developing a plan for the final disposition of such F-35 aircraft and Turkish F-35 aircraft equipment, including full mission simulators, helmet-mounted display systems, air system maintenance trainers, and ancillary mission equipment," the bill states. That money would fund storage for up to six jets and associated materials. F-35 deliveries to Turkey had originally been slated to occur between late summer and the end of this year.

Lawmakers will not allow the F-35As once destined for Turkey to be transferred unless that country gets rid of its S-400 air defense missile systems and associated equipment and promises never to purchase or use the Russian-made weapon again, according to the bill. "Turkey's possession of the S-400 air and missile defense system adversely affects the national security of Turkey, the United States, and all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance," lawmakers said.

In a joint statement provided with the bill Tuesday, Congress said it would "support" the US purchase of all jets originally meant for Turkey. The aircraft have been stationed at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where international pilot training is conducted.

Esper has 90 days from the bill's passage to provide congressional Defense committees a report outlining a long-term plan for Turkey's F-35s, "which includes options for recovery of costs from Turkey and for unilateral use of such assets," the bill states.

The DoD also began phasing out aircraft parts manufactured by Turkey. So far, Turkish industries produced 937 parts for the F-35, including items for the landing gear and fuselage.

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