Defense Secretary James Mattis advised Congress against removing Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program, which lawmakers were planning to do in response to Turkey’s plan to buy a missile defense system from Russia and its detainment of an American citizen.
The U.S. Senate passed a $716 billion defense policy bill in June with an added bipartisan clause that blocks the transfer of F-35 fighter jets, considered one of the most advance warplanes in the world, to Turkey.
“At this time, I oppose removal of Turkey from the F-35,” Mattis wrote in a previously undisclosed letter toHouse Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry. A similar letter was also sent to the Senate Armed Services committee, Bloomberg reported.
Mattis told lawmakers that Turkey has invested $1.25 billion into the development of the F-35, and that Turkey is one of the original international partners in the program, and that despite their shared concerns, the sales must proceed.
“If the Turkish supply chain was disrupted today, it would result in an aircraft production break, delaying delivery of 50-75 jets and would take approximately 18-24 months to re-source parts” made by Turkish companies, Mattis wrote.
Turkey plans to purchase 100 of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter planes, and Turkish air pilots have already begun training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. (RELATED: Lockheed Martin Moves Forward With Sale Of F-35 Fighter Jets To Turkey Despite Congressional Bans)
Turkey and Russia signed a deal in December 2017 in which Moscow would supply Ankara with S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries, a move Pentagon officials say threatens the security and data collection of the F-35.
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