The US and Turkey have entered into talks to settle a dispute over the F-35 co-production programme, which Ankara was expelled from after it purchased a Russian missile defence system even though it had already sunk about $1.4 billion into the international, next-generation fighter project.
The discussions, led by the Pentagon's Andrew Winternitz, principal director for Europe and Nato policy, and Melissa Benkert, director for planning, programmes and analysis, made clear that Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 programme is now final.
“The discussions were to address remaining issues resulting from Turkey’s removal from the F-35 programme, which was finalised on September 23,” the Pentagon said.
The process to expel Turkey from the programme began in 2019 after its acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile defence system, with Congress slapping sanctions on Ankara the following year.
Ankara joined the F-35 co-production consortium in 2002 and the Turkish government had planned and made payments towards the purchase of 100 aircraft.
Now the two sides are trying to find ways to settle the payment dispute without Turkey returning to the programme. Ankara is seeking $1.4bn in compensation.
“Either Turkey needs to be sent back to the F-35 programme or the money we paid should be given or compensated with other products,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told CNN Türk on Thursday.
Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan raised the issue in talks with their counterparts Hulusi Akar and Ibrahim Kalin this week.
“The secretary reaffirmed the United States’ recognition of Turkey’s military modernisation needs,” a statement from the Pentagon read.
One of the compensation proposals includes updating Turkey's fleet of F-16 jets.
Turkey currently maintains a fleet of more than 200 F-16s, approximately 100 of which require upgrades.
But in a letter to President Joe Biden this week, 11 members of Congress cited “a profound sense of concern” about granting Turkey more of the jets.
“We cannot afford to compromise our national security by sending US-manufactured aircraft to a treaty ally that continues to behave like an adversary,” the letter read.
Mr Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are likely to meet at the end of the month on the sidelines of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow.
“Most likely, we will have a meeting in Glasgow instead of Rome. Our most important issue will be the F-35,” Mr Erdogan told reporters on Wednesday.
“We have a $1.4bn payment regarding the F-35s. We need to discuss how the repayment plan will be.”
US officials have said they fear Russia could use the S-400 to acquire intelligence on the F-35 as well as Nato members' defence systems.
The S-400 acquisition was also deemed a breach of Congress's Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act, which passed in 2017 and sanctions any significant transactions with Russia.