Despite opposition in Congress, Turkey will receive its first F-35 Joint Strike fighter jet this week, Pentagon and aviation industry officials tell VOA.
Lockheed Martin, maker of the F-35, will hold a ceremony Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas, for Turkey’s new jets, according to a company spokesperson.
Both House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) contain restrictions on Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program.
U.S. lawmakers are concerned about Ankara’s imprisonment of an American pastor and its plans to buy the Russian S-400 air defense system, which they say would "degrade the general security" of the NATO alliance and be incompatible with systems used by Turkey’s NATO allies.
The NDAA, and any language therein, would not become law until the House and Senate pass a final, joint version of the bill.
“As always, Lockheed Martin will comply with any official guidance from the United States government,” the company said.
After the rollout ceremony on Thursday, Turkey’s two jets will travel to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona at a later date so that Turkish pilots can learn how to use them, Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, a Pentagon spokesman, told VOA.
“Turkish F-35 pilots and maintainers have arrived at Luke Air Force Base, and will begin flight academics soon,” Andrews added.
A defense official noted the U.S. government could likely still be in custody of the aircraft when the newest NDAA is passed.
“After aircraft production of F-35 jets are complete, the U.S. government maintains custody of the aircraft until custody is transferred to the partner. This normally occurs after the lengthy process of foreign partner training is complete in about one to two years,” the official told VOA.
Turkey is a NATO ally and has been an international participant with the U.S.-made F-35 program since 2002.