After voicing previous disquiet over Turkey's acquisition of Lockheed Martin's latest stealth fighter, the US House and Senate armed services committees have made good on their threat of enacting legislation that could block future deliveries of the F-35 to Ankara.
While acknowledging concerns about Turkey's "authoritarian drift", US Secretary of Defense James Mattis backs its continued involvement in the F-35 programme, pointing to potential supply-chain disruption and increased costs should it be ejected from a planned 100-aircraft buy.
Another factor in the dispute is Ankara's planned purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia, with Washington uneasy about the performance of its claimed "anti-stealth" capability and the potential for sensitive data about the Lightning II to find its way to Moscow. The solution? It should put America first and buy Patriot air-defence equipment instead.
While very favourable terms are no doubt being offered, there is no simple fix should Ankara stick to its guns and complete an S-400 procurement. As a NATO nation – and one that currently operates more than 800 US-sourced military aircraft – forcibly removing Turkey from the F-35 programme would have significant knock-on effects not just for the programme, but its relationship with the Alliance as a whole.
President Donald Trump has threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey not because of the S-400 deal, but as a result of its ongoing imprisonment of a US pastor, but the F-35 issue is clearly of greater strategic importance.
With Ankara's first aircraft not due to touch down on domestic soil until 2020, there may well be enough time to resolve this crisis. But perhaps both sides should now be preparing a "Plan B", just in case?
Source: Flight International