U.S. President Donald Trump has approved a defense policy bill delaying the transfer of F-35 stealth fighter jets to Turkey.
The bill, called as the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), was signed by Trump during a ceremony at Fort Drum, home of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, in upstate New York.
An amendment to the NDAA prohibits the sale of F-35 aicraft to Turkey until the Pentagon issues a report on Turkish-American relations in 90 days. The report is expected to include an assessment of Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program as well as the risks that would be posed by the country’s purchase of the Russian S-400 advanced missile defense system.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved the new defense policy bill. The bill is named in honor of former Vietnam prisoner of war Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is battling brain cancer. NDAA authorized a top-line budget of $717 billion which includes $616.9 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget, $69 billion for overseas contingency operations funding and $21.9 billion for nuclear weapons programs under the Energy Department.
Turkey has been in the F-35 program since 1999 and had invested $1.25 billion in the aircraft’s development phase. Several Turkish firms have been involved in the production of the aircraft as part of Turkey’s partner role in the joint program, such as Alp Aviation, AYESAS, Kale Aviation, Kale Pratt & Whitney and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI).
Turkey plans to procure a total of 100 F-35 fighter jets, out of which 30 have been already approved. This would make it the third-largest operator of F-35s in the world.
The country took delivery of its first F-35 fighter jet at a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 21. The aircraft is now stationed at Luke AFB in Arizona where Turkish F-35 pilots are participating in training.
Apart from the U.S. and Turkey, U.K., Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Norway and Denmark are also present as participant members of the F-35 fighter jet program.
Turkey is a key NATO ally and a major geopolitical partner of the U.S. The Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey is home to an operational tactical nuclear storage site with B61 nuclear bombs.