US grounds Turkey's F-35 training programme

US grounds Turkey's F-35 training programme
Turkish pilots have been frozen out of the US' F-35 over Ankara's purchase of the S-400 air defences.
2 min read
11 June, 2019
Erdogan has been under pressure to cancel the Russian arms deal [Getty]
Turkish fighter pilots working on the F-35 fighters planes in the US have been grounded due to Ankara's purchase of Russia's S-400, media reported on Tuesday.

Training was frozen earlier than expected for the Turkish airmen on the F-35 programme in Arizona, Reuters reported late Monday.

Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan gave Turkish pilots at Luke Air Force Base an end of July deadline to finish training on the F-35, due to anger over Ankara's planned purchase of Russia's S-400, which Washington says is incompatible with NATO defences.

The deadline would give Turkey time to rethink its planned purchase of the S-400 air defence systems, with the Patriot missiles cited as a possible alternative.

Washington threatened to boot Turkey off the F-35 fighter jet programme if it did not comply with its demands on the Russian arms sale.

On Monday, a Pentagon spokesperson told Reuters that it was freezing Turkey's involvement in the F-35 training programme earlier than expected.

"The department is aware that the Turkish pilots at Luke AFB are not flying," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews, a Pentagon spokesman, told Reuters.

"Without a change in Turkish policy, we will continue to work closely with our Turkish ally on winding down their participation in the F-35 programme."

A second anonymous source at the base told Reuters that training of maintenance and air teams was ended last week due to "safety concerns".

Maintenance teams will continue to work at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

The US is also worried that the purchase of the S-400 could threaten the secrecy of the F-35 programme, due to Ankara's military connections with Moscow.

Washington and Ankara have also had differences on the Syria War and the presence of Turkish opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen, who President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for an attempted coup in the country.