Turkey’s Undersecretary for Defence Industries Ismail Demir has stated that the US “has no legal basis” for excluding Ankara from the F-35 programme.
“We have fulfilled our obligations under the programme. If our employees are not taken [into the program], we will not pay for it. We conveyed our desire to remain in the project [to the US]”, Demir was quoted by the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet as saying on Wednesday.
He noted that the decision to exclude Turkey was taken by the F-35 project’s partners on their own and that “we have taken steps to try to open other doors, if we are left with no other choice.”
Demir’s statement comes in response to the US announcement earlier this month that that Turkey would no longer be part of its F-35 program after Ankara bought Russian S-400s and made “its continued involvement with the F-35 [programme] impossible.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry called the move a mistake which would harm the strategic relationship between two NATO allies.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that if the US refuses to sell its F-35 jets to Turkey, the country will "once again have to take measures on that matter [and] turn elsewhere" for fighter jets for its Air Force.
Earlier, he welcomed the beginning of Russia’s S-400 missile system deliveries to Turkey, praising the S-400 deal as “the most important agreement in our history right now,” and stressing that by purchasing these systems, “Turkey is not preparing for war.”
Moscow and Ankara signed an agreement for the delivery of four S-400 batteries to Turkey in December 2017. The United States and NATO members have repeatedly criticised the agreement, expressing concerns over the S-400 system’s incompatibility with NATO air and missile defence systems and the S-400’s ability to compromise the F-35 stealth jet project.
Turkey has stressed that it will not abandon its $2.5 billion contract with Russia, which was earlier described by Erdogan as a “done deal.”