When it comes to building the F-35 stealth fighter jet, Turkey is no small partner.
That’s why Fort Worth-based Lockheed Martin Aeronautics is sure to feel a sting after the Defense Department announced this week that it was suspending delivery of F-35 aircraft parts and manuals to Turkey because of that country’s pursuit of a Russian-made air defense system.
Turkey has been part of the F-35 program since 1999, and has committed to buying up to 100 of the F-35A version. Turkey’s first F-35A was delivered in June, during a dramatic ceremony in Fort Worth that features music and images from the country that straddles eastern Europe and western Asia.
Company officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Pentagon’s suspension.
Several Turkish contractors including Turkish Aerospace Industries Inc., play crucial roles in assembling parts for the F-35, Doug Wilhelm, Lockheed vice president for the F-35 program, said after the June ceremony.
About 30 percent of center fuselages installed on F-35s are built in Turkey, he said. Also, Turkish contractors play a prominent role in building components of the landing gear, forward fuselage, the electronics used by the pilot and some of the aircraft’s composite skin, he said.
“As a program partner, Turkish industries are eligible to become suppliers to the global F-35 fleet for the life of the program. In total, F-35 industrial opportunities for Turkish companies are expected to reach $12 billion,” Lockheed Martin company officials wrote on an F-35 fact sheet. “Turkey plans to purchase 100 of the F-35A Conventional Takeoff and Landing variant. Its unsurpassed technological systems and unique stealth capabilities ensure that the F-35 will be the future of Turkish national security for decades to come.”
Lockheed Martin officials have said they were on course to deliver 131 F-35s this year to U.S. military branches and various allies.
By 2022, the F-35 program is expected to be up to full production capacity of 170 or more planes annually..
Other countries playing a major role in the F-35 program include the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Denmark and Canada. Additionally, the U.S. has authorized foreign sales to Belgium, Israel, Japan and South Korea.
At issue is Turkey’s interest in buying the S-400 anti-aircraft system designed by Russia. Pentagon officials have expressed concern that providing Turkey with F-35s, which Russia’s S-400 system reportedly can’t detect, could lead to intelligence breaches.
When the first F-35 was delivered to Turkey in June, many members of Congress from North Texas who typically attend events at Lockheed Martin Aeroautics’ massive Fort Worth factory were noticeably absent.
The F-35A Lightning II emblazoned with the star and crescent from the Turkish flag was unveiled at Lockheed Martin’s sprawling Fort Worth plant in front of about 1,000 spectators.
“We are not just purchasing weapons from the United States, or selling weapons to the United States. We are partners to the United States,” Serdar Demirel, Turkey deputy undersecretary for defense industries, told the crowd. “We hope our partnership will continue.”
The first and second F-35s built for Turkey were then sent to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where Turkish pilots and maintenance workers were to be trained.
“Over the years, the Republic of Turkey has been a valuable ally for NATO, the United States and the cause of global security,” Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin chairman, president and chief executive officer, told the crowd.
In March 2018, when an F-35 was delivered to South Korea, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn was among several dignitaries in attendance.
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth is also often a frequent guest at such presentations.