US Could Use Turkish F-35 Parts Contracts to Entice New Customers

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II sits on the tarmac during media day for the National Salute To America's Heroes Air & Sea Show at Opa locka Executive Airport on May 24, 2019 in Miami, Florida.

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The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II sits on the tarmac during media day for the National Salute To America's Heroes Air & Sea Show at Opa locka Executive Airport on May 24, 2019 in Miami, Florida.

Ankara is on track to forfeit work worth billions of dollars if it is booted from the F-35 program.

If the United States ejects Turkey from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, it would gain new enticements to help sell the stealth fighter jet to other allies. 

That’s because contracts for the 900-plus F-35 parts currently made in Turkey could be offered to countries that are considering buying the jet, such as Canada, Finland, Switzerland and Spain. It’s common practice for U.S. arms manufacturers to sweeten export deals by offering potential customers manufacturing and co-production work and even technological know-how.

U.S. officials have long threatened to toss Turkey from the F-35 program if it buys Russia’s S-400 air-defense system. On Friday, Turkish officials announced that they had begun to take delivery of S-400 parts. Pentagon officials announced, then canceled, Friday press conferences to discuss their response.

Last month, Ellen Lord, defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, said that JSF program officials with the Pentagon and lead contractor Lockheed Martin had secured backup suppliers for the F-35 parts made in Turkey.

Related: Pentagon Gives Turkey a Deadline to Cancel S-400 Deal or Lose F-35

Related: US, Poland to Discuss Potential F-35 Sale, Air Force Secretary Says

Related: Lockheed, Frustrated with US Air Force, Eyes Foreign F-35 Sales

“[T]hey’re predominantly U.S. sources,” Lord said at a June 7 briefing at the Pentagon. “That’s not to say we won’t continue to do what we always do with good program management and look for other sources, because we would like to have second, third sources for most of the items.”

A few weeks later, during an interview at the Paris Air Show, Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program general manager, said the plane’s parts are made by one or more companies.

“We do have alternate sources for some of the material already, but given the capacity if we lost that source…it’s not like the other two remaining sources for a three-source part are sufficient for capacity,” Ulmer said on June 17. “We’re off looking at all of the that capacity requirement.”

Asked if losing those suppliers would slow production, which is currently increasing, or raise the plane’s price, which is currently falling, Ulmer said: “It depends on when a decision would be to stop [the outsourcing] of material. Given enough horizon, there won’t be any impact. It’s really a function of time.”

There’s also the question of what to do with Turkey’s F-35s. About 30 of Turkey’s F-35 are in various stages of production, according to a person familiar with the Ankara’s orders. Four of the planes are at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona where they are used for pilot training. Turkey is slated to receive between five and 10 F-35 per year into the 2020s.

Those planes could be offered to existing F-35 buyers or new F-35 customers, including Poland.

In May, Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson said the company could easily sell Turkey’s F-35s to other countries.

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