Turkish pilots have been banned from training on F-35s at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, the Pentagon confirmed, as Washington steps up pressure on Ankara to force it out of S-400 air defense deal with Russia.
“The department is aware that the Turkish pilots … are not flying,” Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews, told Reuters.
Without a change in Turkish policy, we will continue to work closely with our Turkish ally on winding down their participation in the F-35 program.
Four Turkish pilots and 47 personnel were undergoing training at the facility in Arizona, where they were instructed by the US Air Force on how to maintain the fifth-generation jets – four of which have already been ceremonially transferred to Turkey, without leaving the US soil though. Turkey planned to deploy the first batch of fighters by November, alongside the Russian S-400 air defense systems that are due for delivery in summer.
While Ankara argues it has a sovereign right to diversify its defense suppliers, Washington demands full obedience and insists that the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should only purchase NATO-approved weapons systems.
Turkey has repeatedly stated that the $2.5 billion S-400 purchase from Russia is a done deal, but at the same time stressed that it is willing to create a joint working group to alleviate any possible US security concerns. Ankara has invested $1.25 billion into the trillion-dollar F-35 program, producing parts of the fuselage, landing gear, and cockpit displays for the jets. Given the country's significant role in developing the fifth-generation fighter, Turkey continues to insist that all 100 units it had purchased must be delivered.