Turkey to station US-made F-35 jets at base protecting country’s borders with Iraq, Iran, Syria
The joint strike fighters will be stationed in the 7th Main Jet Base Command in Malatya, which is also home to the Kürecik anti-missile shield has been functioning since 2011 as a protective measure for NATO, of which Turkey is a member.
According to defense industry authorities, the delivery of the first of the 30 F-35 fighters will be made on June 21 at a ceremony in the U.S.
Preparation work in Malatya to welcome the jets – 30 of them in the first delivery — is still ongoing, with construction and modernization works in place.
Hangars that once housed F-4 fighter jets at the base are now being worked on to shelter the new fighter aircraft.
While test flights have begun ahead of the jets’ arrival in Malatya, on the Turkish side two pilots of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) started to undergo intense training three months ago in the U.S. at the headquarters of the of the main producer of the F-35, Lockheed Martin, getting ready for their next missions.
The TSK, which is part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, along with a number of prominent NATO allies including the United Kingdom, Italy and the Netherlands, have been planning to upgrade their air force fleets with 100 F-35 aircrafts to be jointly produced under this program. The first package, however, is about the delivery of 30 F-35 fighters.
Turkey’s current air defense is based on fleets of F-16s. The TSK is planning to replace some of these fleets with the incoming F-35s.
The delivery of the first F-35 fighter will take place at a time when a number of U.S. congressmen have been urging the U.S. administration to suspend the procurement of them to Turkey due to Ankara’s decision to upgrade its air defense systems with Russian S-400 anti-ballistic missile systems.
Turkey has strongly criticized the U.S. Congress’ move and vowed to retaliate.
“If they take such a step at a moment when we are trying to mend our bilateral ties, they will definitely get a response from Turkey. This is no longer the old Turkey,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told private broadcaster CNN Türk in an interview on May 6.