US backpedals on F-35 training for Turkish pilots
WASHINGTON- Anadolu Agency
"The U.S. said on June 6 it would halt new pilot training on the F-35 fighter jet program with Turkey.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said all Turkish pilots in the program must leave the U.S. by July 31 and training for new pilots will be suspended, according to a letter, obtained my multiple outlets, sent to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.
The timetable would allow pilots currently training on the F-35 to complete their trainings and for other pilots to be reassigned to other posts, Shanahan said.
His remarks are the latest in a set of moves by the U.S. to try to remove Turkey from the F-35 program amid a standoff with its NATO ally over the purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense system.
Tensions between the U.S. and Turkey have reached a fever pitch in recent months with Ankara set to begin receiving the advanced Russian surface-to-air missile system in July.
The U.S. has already suspended deliveries of parts and services related to Turkey's receipt of the multi-million dollar jets.
"You still have the option to change course on the S-400," Shanahan said in the letter.
Turkish Defense Ministry released a statement in response to Shanahan's letter on June 8.
"A letter was sent by US Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan to Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. Covering defense and security issues between the two countries, the letter expresses the expectation of finding a solution to the existing problems within the framework of strategic partnership and maintaining the comprehensive security cooperation and emphasizes the importance of continuing negotiations," the statement said.
Following protracted efforts to purchase an air defense system from the U.S. with no success, Ankara decided in 2017 to purchase Russia’s system.
U.S. officials advised Turkey to buy the U.S. Patriot missile system rather than the S-400 system from Moscow, arguing it would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose the F-35 to possible Russian subterfuge.
But Turkey has emphasized the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO operability and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
Ankara said that it was Washington’s initial refusal to sell the Patriot missile system that led it to seek other offers, adding that Russia offered a better deal that included technology transfers.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on June 4 the U.S. had yet to give Turkey an "offer as good as the S-400s."