WASHINGTON (Rahnuma) : A group of senators introduced legislation Thursday to prohibit the transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, citing concerns about Ankara’s plans to purchase the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
“Turkey is an important NATO ally and willing partner in addressing a number of US national security priorities,” said Senator James Lankford in a press release.
Lankford, however, shared concerns about Turkey’s plan to obtaining the S-400 system, saying that Russia “seeks to undermine NATO and US interests at every turn.”
“The prospect of Russia having access to U.S. aircraft and technology in a NATO country, Turkey, is a serious national and global security risk,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
Following protracted efforts to purchase air defense systems from the U.S. with no success, Ankara decided in 2017 to purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense system.
Ankara is also planning to purchase 100 F-35 fighter jets from the U.S. and its pilots are currently training on the weapons platform at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
Turkey first joined the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program in 2002 and has invested more than $1.25 billion. It also manufactures various aircraft parts for all F-35 variants and customers.
Turkish firms supply the F-35 program with key components, including airframe structures and assemblies and the center fuselages.
The bill defines the “transfer” of the F-35s as being relocated outside the continental U.S. and does not apply to fighter jets being operated by American forces.
Two F-35s have already been delivered to Turkey, and are currently at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where Turkish pilots are training with the aircraft. These jets were scheduled to be transferred in November.
Two more jets are expected to be delivered soon.
Washington has cautioned the S-400 system might covertly obtain critical information on the advanced fighter jets, including their detection range, which could then be relayed to Russia.
“This bill makes it clear that NATO’s integrity, interoperability, and security is a top foreign policy concern across all branches of the U.S. government,” the senators said.
Senators James Lankford, Jeanne Shaheen, Thom Tillis, and Chris Van Hollen are part of the legislation.