Updated 7/21/20 at 1:25 p.m. EST to add more information about the status of the eight Turkish F-35s.
WASHINGTON — After a year of speculation about what would happen to Turkey’s F-35s after the country was ousted from the joint strike fighter program last year, the Defense Department gave its definitive answer Monday evening in a characteristically anticlimactic manner — through its daily contract announcements.
The U.S. Air Force will officially buy eight F-35A conventional takeoff and landing jets originally built by Lockheed Martin for Turkey as part of a $862 million contract modification. The deal also contains an additional six F-35As built for the Air Force and modifications that will bring the Turkish jets in line with the U.S. configuration.
A defense official told Defense News on Tuesday that the contract modification fulfills stipulations in Congress’ fiscal year 2020 defense policy and spending bills. It “addresses the eight production Lot 14 F-35A aircraft originally planned to be delivered to Turkey in 2022-23,” and redirects those jets to the U.S. Air Force when they roll off the production line. The six other F-35As reflect aircraft added to the FY20 defense budget.
The contract modification uses funding from the FY20 budget to pay for the Lot 14 jets. The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin finalized a deal for lots 12, 13 and 14 in October 2019, which set the price of an Lot 14 A model at $77.9 million per copy.
Turkey had planned to buy 100 F-35As over the course of the program, but was ejected from the program last July after accepting the S-400 air defense system from Russia after repeated warnings from U.S. officials. At that point, Turkey’s first F-35s had already rolled off the production line and its pilots and maintainers were training to fly and fix them stateside alongside U.S. personnel at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., and Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. However, the aircraft were never officially delivered to Turkey.
Since then, the fate of Turkey’s jets had been an open question. In January, Defense One reported that 24 Turkish F-35s were in some stage of production, but top Pentagon weapons buyer Ellen Lord told reporters then that Washington and Ankara had not come to an agreement on what would happen to them.
In the FY20 version of the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress gave the Pentagon permission to spend up to $30 million to fly the first six Turkish F-35s to a location where they could be stored and preserved until the department came up with a plan for their use. Those jets, which were produced in Lots 10 and 11, are currently being held “in long-term storage in the United States pending final decision on their disposition,” the defense official said.
The Senate’s version of the FY21 NDAA, which is still working its way through Congress, contains additional language that would allow the Air Force to accept, operate or even modify the first six Turkish F-35s.
Valerie Insinna was Defense News' air warfare reporter. Beforehand, she worked the Navy and congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.