US considering suspending F-35 training for Turkish pilots

Sources say US may suspend training for Turkish pilots on advanced F-35 fighter jets due to Turkey's purchase of S-400 from Russia.

Elad Benari ,

F-35 stealth fighter
F-35 stealth fighter

The United States is seriously considering suspending training for Turkish pilots on advanced F-35 fighter jets as Ankara moves ahead with plans to purchase the S-400 Russian missile defense system despite objections from Washington, sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

Turkey’s deal with Russia to purchase the S-400 air defense missile system has caused tensions between Washington and Ankara.

The US believes the S-400 sale is part of Russian efforts to disrupt the alliance amid Western concern over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's burgeoning relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Washington also says the S-400 is incompatible with the Western alliance’s defense network and would pose a threat to American F-35 stealth fighters which Turkey also plans to buy.

The two sources, who are familiar with Turkey’s role in the F-35 program and who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a final decision had not yet been made.

The Trump administration recently asked Ankara to postpone receiving the advanced missile-defense system which was set for July, and sources indicated two weeks ago that Turkey was considering the request.

The deliberation follows signs that Turkey is moving ahead with the S-400 purchase. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said last week that Turkish military personnel were receiving training in Russia to use the S-400, and said Russian personnel may come to Turkey.

On Monday, Akar denied claims that the US gave Turkey a deadline to reconsider buying the S-400 air defense missile systems from Russia.

The Pentagon and State Department declined to comment on any deliberations about the pilots. But Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews noted discussions are taking place with Ankara on potentially buying the Patriot missile defense system.

Andrews said the Patriot system, made by Raytheon Co., “remains a robust, NATO-interoperable alternative to the S-400 for (Turkey’s) national defense requirements.”

Turkish officials insist that the deal to purchase the S-400 does not affect the security of the US and have stressed that they will go ahead with the deal despite Washington’s objections.