During a ceremony held in Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday, Turkey received two of its first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets.
The exchange comes amid disapproval from Congress as they question whether or not Turkey is still a reliable ally.
Armed Services committee members in the House and Senate expressed anger over Turkey purchasing Russia’s S-400 air defense system, as well as the refusal to release American pastor, Andrew Brunson, from imprisonment.
The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) versions in both House and Senate include language that would require the delay of F-35 sales to Turkey, as well as possibly restricting its partnership in the F-35 program.
The House version prohibits the delivery of “major defense equipment” to Turkey until reports have been completed by the State Department and Defense Department on the status of U.S.-Turkish relations, the Washington Examiner reported.
The Senate version orders the Pentagon to submit a plan removing Turkey’s partnership in the F-35 program.
— TurkishEmbassyDC (@TurkishEmbassy) June 21, 2018
However, the Pentagon said that the NDAA is not yet law and would not impact the ceremony.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews told CNN: “Lockheed Martin will hold a rollout ceremony for Turkey this Thursday in Fort Worth, and the two jets will follow-on to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona at a later date.”
He added that Turkish pilots and crews arrived at Luke Air Force base and will soon begin flight training.
Lockheed Martin traditionally holds a ceremony in recognition of the first aircraft for every U.S. and international customer.
A Pentagon official told Washington Examiner that the ceremony does not necessarily transfer ownership to Turkey.
“After aircraft production, the U.S. government maintains custody of the aircraft until custody is transferred to the partner,” the official said. “This normally occurs after the lengthy process of foreign partner training is complete,” a process that can last up to two years.
Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a consultant to Lockheed Martin, said that removing Turkey from the F-35 program would result in “major complications” and require a costly restructuring of the entire program.
Although Turkey plans to purchase up to 100 F-35 aircraft, they are more than just a customer in the program. Turkey is a major manufacturer and supplier of many of the F-35’s components.
Turkish company Alp Aviation manufactures F-35 structure and assemblies, landing gear components, and more than 100 parts of the Pratt & Whitney F135 propulsion system engines used in the F-35.
Turkish Aerospace Industries works with Northrop Grumman to supply production hardware for each F-35 aircraft. This hardware includes center fuselages, composite skins, weapon bay doors and fiber placement composite air inlet ducts.
Another Turkish company is the sole supplier for the missile remote interface unit and the panoramic cockpit display – two major components of the F-35.
Yet another Turkish firm manufactures approximately 40 percent of the F-35’s Electrical Wiring & Interconnection System.
Turkey is also slated to be a partner in NATO’s deterrent force by deploying a new version of the F-35 capable of holding nuclear weapons.
Turkey is such an integral partner in the F-35 program that removing them could create a host of problems.
Three U.S. Senators recently introduced a bill to block the transfer of F-35s to Turkey due to compromised U.S.-Turkish relations.
The three senators stated that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is on a “path of reckless governance and disregard for the rule of law,” Reuters reported.
Turkey’s alliance has been in question since an attempted coup in July 2016. Since then, tens of thousands have been detained, consequences carried out on dissidents, and purges in military and government.
After previously assisting U.S. forces against the Islamic State, Erdogan sent troops into northern Syria and threatened to impede U.S. plans of supporting Kurdish fighters in a local security force.
While Turkish pilots and crews train at Luke Air Force Base, Congress still has time to act if they determine Turkey’s removal in the F-35 program is in the best interest of the program and the U.S.