Erdoğan says F-35 project would collapse without Turkey
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on April 30 that an F-35 fighter jet project without Turkey was bound to collapse, adding that Ankara was being treated unfairly over the project.
“An F-35 project from which Turkey is excluded is doomed to completely fail,” he said addressing the International Defense Industry Fair (IDEF’19) program.
Turkey’s plan to buy Russian S-400 missile defense systems has strained ties with the United States which has said they would compromise the security of the Lockheed Martin F-35 jets. Ankara is both a prospective buyer of F-35s and also a partner in their production.
Erdoğan stated that those trying to exclude Turkey from the F-35 project had not thought it through and added that Ankara was rapidly taking steps to develop its own air defense systems.
“We believe that those, who try to exclude us from a program of which we are project and production partner, still do not see where it will lead to,” the president said. “We have started to rapidly take the steps to produce our own national fighter jets. The majority of our air forces’ fleets will be comprised of our national fighter jets. In this regard, we also focus on unmanned fighter jets, the technology of the future,” Erdoğan stated.
Turkey did not and will not accept any “impositions” in the defense realm, just as in the areas of politics, diplomacy, and the economy,” he said, noting that throughout history, Turkey has abided by all its alliances and done its part.
He recalled that Ankara first tried to meet its need for air defense systems through its allies, but Turkey’s demands went unanswered or were subjected to conditions, so Turkey took different steps.
“Well, there is such a process behind the S-400 deal we reached with Russia,” President Erdoğan said.
The U.S. announced on March 28 that it had suspended the delivery of the F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighter jets to Turkey over Ankara’s plans to buy Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile system.
Turkey took ceremonial delivery of the first two F-35 fighters in June last year. The aircraft was sent to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona where they are used to teach Turkish pilots and crews to maintain and fly the fighters.
Earlier this month, Turkey received two more F-35 jets. Currently, Turkish pilots continue their training, and the jets will be deployed to Malatya air base in Turkey by November.
Ankara is planning to purchase 100 F-35 fighter jets. The Pentagon delivered a report to Congress detailing implications of Turkey receiving the stealth fighter jets in November.
Meanwhile, National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on April 23 said Turkey was unfazed by U.S. threats and had a Plan B in case the U.S. continues to block F-35 deliveries and terminates the deal.