US on schedule to cut Turkey from F-35 production line by 2022

Air Force secretary nominee Frank Kendall tells Senate that production in Turkey will end in 'timely manner'

FILE PHOTO: A formation of U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II fighter jets perform aerial maneuvers during as part of a combat power exercise over Utah Test and Training Range, Utah, U.S. November 19, 2018. Picture taken November 19, 2018. U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Cory D. Payne/Handout via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY/File Photo
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The US is on schedule to remove Turkey from the F-35 manufacturing line when its contract ends in 2022, US Air Force secretary nominee Frank Kendall told the Senate this week.

“Under the current situation with Turkey, I think we should not be making F-35 parts in Turkey,” Mr Kendall said in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

When pressed by committee members, Mr Kendall confirmed he would work to terminate the manufacturing of some F-35 parts in Turkey “as soon as possible".

Turkey was expelled from the F-35 programme in 2019 over its acquisition and deployment of the Russian S-400 missile defence system and Congress slapped sanctions on the country the following year.

Ankara joined the F-35 consortium in 2002 and the Turkish government had planned to buy 100 of the aircraft.

US officials fear Russia could use the S-400 system to acquire intelligence on the F-35 and Nato defence systems.

Last month, the Pentagon notified Ankara that it is no longer party to the new memorandum of understanding signed between the F-35 consortium countries.

Turkish suppliers, however, such as Turkish Aerospace Industries, continue to manufacture parts for the F-35, though the contract is due to end in 2022.

Aaron Stein, director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, saw Mr Kendall’s remarks as further confirmation that the F-35 supply chain from Turkey is winding down.

"This process has been ongoing. The US began with identifying alternative suppliers for the parts Turkey makes, in particular the single source parts, then certifying those US-based suppliers, and then ramping up production to meet future demand for the F-35," Mr Stein told The National.

“The date officials have given for the total wind down is 2022, which is what Mr Kendall just confirmed.”

Removing Turkey from those contracts “is a big deal”, Mr Stein argues, given that the production of the F-35 “will continue for at least four decades".

But US manufacturers told Congress last month that removing Turkey from the supply chain could increase costs by 3 per cent.

Matthew Bromberg, head of the Pratt & Whitney military engines division, told the House Armed Services Committee that Ankara produces “some of the most critical parts of the engine and the Turkey suppliers were high quality, low cost".

Mr Stein agreed that the process would add cost in the short run but said “those costs are not arduous and will flatten out over time".

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is due to arrive in Turkey this week.