Lockheed Martin plans to formally deliver an F-35A Lighting II to Turkey in a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas on 21 June, despite protests by US lawmakers and diplomats.
The F-35A will remain in the USA until Turkish pilots are trained to operate the aircraft, upon which time it will be flown to Turkey.
However, US representatives and senators have objected to Turkey receiving the state-of-the-art stealth fighter after the country signed a contract with Russia to buy the Almaz-Antey S-400 Triumf system, one of the most advanced surface-to-air missile systems on the export market. It's advertised by Rosoboronexport with an "anti-stealth range" up to 81nm (150km).
Lawmakers and State Department officials have also complained about what they say is Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s disregard for the rule of law, diminishment of individual freedoms, consolidation of power and strategic decisions out of line with US interests.
Separate efforts within the US Senate and House of Representatives are underway to block the transfer of the aircraft to Turkey unless the country declines to purchase the S-400 anti-aircraft system and changes its other policies.
Erdoğan seemed to up the ante when he reportedly announced in an interview on Turkish 24 TV that he had reached out to Russian President Vladimir Putin with a proposal for Turkey to jointly produce the S-500 anti-aircraft missile system with Russia. The S-500 announcement was made on the same day, 14 June 2018, that Lockheed announced the rollout ceremony of the F-35.
Turkey, a NATO ally and partner in fighting ISIS, has ordered a total of 100 conventional take-off and landing F-35As. The first batch of 14 are already purchased. A total of 30 F-35As are scheduled for delivery to the Turkish Air Force by the end of 2022.
For its part, Lockheed has tried to avoid the controversy and billed the upcoming ceremony as routine.
“The F-35 program traditionally hosts a ceremony to recognise every US and international customers’ first aircraft,” said Lockheed. “The roll out ceremony for Turkey’s first F-35 aircraft is scheduled for June 21. The aircraft will then ferry to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where Turkish pilots will join the F-35A training pool.”
It is not clear when Turkey might be able to move its F-35s from Luke AFB, Arizona to within its borders. Questions about that timeline emailed to the F-35 Joint Programme Office were not answered.
The Royal Air Force received its initial four F-35Bs at RAF Marham in Norfolk, Britain on 6 June some six years after that country formally was delivered its first aircraft. For its part, the Israeli Air Force landed its initial two F-35Is on home soil in December 2016 about five months after the formal rollout ceremony.