Air Force Will Get F-35 Jets Denied to Turkey After Russian Missile Buy

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F-35 taxis Luke Air Force Base
An F-35 taxis from the runway onto the flightline after successfully completing a sortie, Dec. 14, 2015, at Luke Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ridge Shan)

It’s official: the U.S. Air Force will buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets denied to Turkey following that country’s decision to purchase the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air-missile system.

The Pentagon announced Monday that it had awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. an $862 million firm-fixed-price contract for the conventional takeoff and landing jets for the Air Force's use.

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"This modification exercises options to procure eight Lot 14 F-35A Lightning II repositioned aircraft as a result of the Republic of Turkey's removal from the F-35 program, and six Lot 14 F-35A aircraft for the Air Force," according to the contract award. The additional six jets are part of a surplus of jets authorized by Congress in the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, according to Defense News. Congress typically gives the services the option to buy extra F-35s each year that were not in the original budget request.

The Lot 14 jets -- part of a deal made with Lockheed in October -- have yet to roll off the production line. Turkey was originally set to take ownership of those eight aircraft between 2022 and 2023. They will now be turned over to the Air Force, a defense official told Defense News.

The deal does not include jets already delivered to Turkey, though they remain on U.S. soil. Officials at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona accepted the third and fourth F-35 jets for the Turkish pilot training program in April 2019, part of the first six jets purchased by the NATO ally.

Last year, after Turkey ordered Russia's S-400 missile system -- known to Moscow as the "F-35 killer" -- the U.S. stopped it from purchasing the F-35 and began phasing out aircraft parts the country produces. It also asked Turkish students -- pilots and maintainers -- attending F-35 training at Luke and at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, to leave.

The fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act included $30 million to store the fifth-generation jets until a plan for their use is formalized; they remain in storage, Defense News reported. The pending fiscal 2021 legislation would allow the Air Force to purchase those jets as well.

Turkey was responsible for supplying roughly 1,000 different parts for the stealth jet; U.S. officials noted last year that finding new suppliers could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The Pentagon set a date of March 2020 to formally cut ties with Turkish industries; however Turkish officials have said parts are still in production.

Turkey's impending ouster from the program has placed a greater burden on other suppliers, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released in May.

"We found that Turkey's recent suspension from the F-35 program is likely to compound these existing supply chain issues," the report states. "Turkish suppliers will provide parts through the end of lot 14 deliveries (scheduled to take place through 2022), in part, to avoid disruptions to aircraft deliveries and additional cost growth from standing up new suppliers."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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