ISTANBUL    -     Turkey called on the United States to correct “its mistake” of suspending the country from the F-35 fighter jet program, as it will “cause irreparable wounds” in strategic relations,” the Foreign Ministry said on July 17.       

“This unilateral step contradicts with the spirit of alliance and does not rely on any legitimate justification,” the ministry said in a statement.     

“It is unfair to remove Turkey, one of the main partners in the F-35 program,” it said, adding claims that the S-400 system will jeopardize sensitive information about F-35 technologies are “baseless”. “The fact that our proposal to form a working group with the participation of NATO on this issue has been left unanswered is the most obvious evidence of the prejudice on the U.S. side and the lack of will to resolve the issue in good faith,” the ministry said.  

The ministry highlighted that the United States must show the importance it attaches to Turkey’s friendship, not just with rhetoric but with action, especially in the fight against ISIL, the PKK/PYD/YPG and FETÖ.

“It is of great importance to maintain the understanding reached at the meeting between President Erdoğan and President Trump in Osaka, held in the margins of the G20 Summit.

“We call upon the United States to return from this mistake that will cause irreparable wounds in our strategic relations,” said the ministry.

Earlier on July 17, the U.S. government announced it is removing Turkey from the F-35 stealth fighter program, following through on threats to do so over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-air missile system.     

The Trump administration had threatened to expel Turkey from the F-35 fighter program if it acquired the S-400 from Russia, warning the system could be used by Moscow to covertly attain secret information on the stealth fighter. The delivery of S-400 components began last week and is ongoing with 14 shipments of related equipment so far having landed in Turkey over the last six days.     

Turkish pilots and maintenance staff who were sent to the United States to train on the platform are being notified that they will have to leave the country by the end of the month.   

The process will be completed by the end of March 2020, the Pentagon’s acquisition and procurement chief Ellen Lord told reporters in a major break with a key NATO ally.   

“The U.S. still values our strategic partnership with Turkey,” Lord said. “The Department of Defense and the U.S. government more broadly have worked very hard to chart an alternative path that would enable Turkey to acquire air defense systems within NATO alliance standards for interoperability and still allow Turkey to remain within the F-35 partnership.”   

“Much of the F-35’s strength lies in its stealth capabilities,” said Lord. “So the ability to detect those capabilities would jeopardize the long-term security of the F-35 program.”   

A White House statement issued just before the Defense Department briefed reporters was not specific on the matter.   

F-35 program countries were in “consensus” on Turkey’s removal, Lord said.    

In the short-term, Turkey’s share of F-35 parts production will be shifted to U.S. suppliers, “but this will gradually open up to program partners,” Lord said, noting that Turkey’s removal will have “minimal impact” on the overall program.   

Turkey stands to lose over $9 billion in program work share from the over 900 parts it was to make over the life of the program, she added.   

The status of the money Turkey put down to purchase the fifth-generation aircraft is uncertain, however, with the Pentagon official saying only that “we’re discussing the specifics about the aircraft they have purchased so far.”