Turkish pilots to begin F-35 jet training soon, says Pentagon official
The Pentagon on July 2 said Turkish pilots and maintenance personnel who are being trained on the F-35 fighter jet in the state of Arizona will begin flight academics soon.
“Turkish F-35 pilots and maintainers have already arrived at the Luke Air Force Base,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning told reporters.
Manning said following established agreements, the United States maintains custody of the aircrafts until it is transferred to partner countries and it will normally occur after the partner training is complete, which will take approximately one to two years.
Turkey has been in the F-35 program since 1999.
The Turkish defense industry has taken an active role in the production of aircraft. Alp Aviation, AYESAS, Kale Aviation, Kale Pratt & Whitney, and Turkish Aerospace Industries have been producing parts for the first F-35 fighter jet.
The U.S. Senate, however, overwhelmingly approved the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which includes an amendment prohibiting sales of the jets to Turkey, citing the purchase of the S-400 air defense system from Russia and the detaining of U.S. citizens as reasons.
The bill must now be reconciled with one already passed by the House of Representatives in May and a compromise measure must then be passed by both chambers and signed by U.S. President Donald Trump.
“The U.S. government has not made a determination on Turkey’s future participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program,” Manning said in response to a question about the Pentagon’s stance if the Senate’s decision is approved as legislation.
“Turkey is a close and key NATO ally and has been an international participant with the F-35 program since 2002,” he added.
Additionally, another spokesman, Lieut. Col. Mike Andrews, said the Pentagon “does not comment on proposed legislation” and Turkish pilots will continue training as long as “something” has not changed.
“The Senate voted to block. Now the Congress gets a vote, the president gets a vote,” Andrews said in response to a question about the Pentagon’s next state plan.
“What you are asking me is to speculate. So all I can tell you is at the program right now—they will continue to fly,” he added.
Turkey received its first F-35 fighter jet delivery at a ceremony in Forth Worth, Texas on June 21.
The aircraft is expected to boost the Turkish Air Force with its superior capabilities, such as the latest sensors and an advanced radar system.