July 7 (UPI) — A bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper this week asking the Pentagon to more quickly end its F-35 partnership with Turkey.
Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Thom Tillis-R-N.C., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., wrote that the Pentagon’s plans to continue buying F-35 parts into 2022 hampers the United States’ ability to put pressure on the country over its ties to Russia.
“As you know, we have worked together in the Senate on issues of US-Turkey relations for several years and remain concerned about the direction Turkey is taking under the leadership of President Erdogan. From human rights violations in Syria to arbitrary arrests of Americans in Ankara to defense cooperation with Russia, Turkey is not behaving like a responsible actor or working collaboratively with the West at the level we expect from a NATO ally,” the letter said.
The U.S. formally removed Turkey from the international F-35 partnership in 2019 after it received delivery of a Su-35 Russian missile defense system, which the U.S. has warned could compromise the F-35.
But in January Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said the Pentagon would allow prime F-35 contractor Lockheed Martin to honor existing contractual obligations with Turkish manufacturers for F-35 components.
Turkish manufacturers have been involved in building more than 900 parts for the F-35, and while Pentagon officials have found replacement suppliers for most, the shift could cost more than $500 million.