UPDATED WASHINGTON: It’s been a good couple of weeks for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s international program.
Turkish military officials this week approved a deal with JSF prime contractor Lockheed Martin to buy two new A-model F-35s, according to recent news reports.Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed off on the deal late yesterday. Deliveries of the new fighters are expected by 2015. It remains unclear whether these initial Turkish fighters will be used for training or combat operations, according to those reports.
These F-35s will be the first of many Turkey plans to procure over the next few years as a member of the JSF international coalition. Turkey is one of the original eight foreign nations to sign onto the global fighter effort. Other countries include the United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Denmark, and Norway. JSF sales to Ankara could top $16 billion over the life of the program, if Turkey buys all the F-35s it’s planning to. The jets will replace the legacy F-16 fighters that make up the majority of the Turkish air forces.
The Turkish deal comes weeks after Japan agreed to become the newest member of the F-35 coalition. The Japanese ministry of defense selected the JSF over Boeing’s F/A-18 and the Eurofighter Typhoon to replace its legacy F-4 Phantoms in December. The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force plans to buy between 40 to 50 F-35s over the life of the deal. F-35 program officials are also looking at getting procurement deals in place for South Korea and Singapore.
In spite of these recent successes, top U.S. and foreign defense leaders have expressed concern over the F-35’s international partnerships, particularly those in Europe. British Defence Minister Phillip Hammond reiterated his country’s commitment to the fighter program. But the growing instability in the U.S. portion of the F-35 program could force London’s hand in reducing the United Kingdom’s JSF purchases, Hammond said during yesterday’s Atlantic Council speech in Washington. The UK is in the midst of implementing draconian defense spending cuts, brining their future role in the JSF program into doubt. “If there is any slippage in the program, any reduction in the US numbers required could have impacts on availability and on unit costs,” the UK defence chief said.
On the other hand, the unfolding European economic crisis could also put the other international JSF partners at risk, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said last month. Italy, Netherlands, Denmark as well as the UK, will “have to make some decisions . . . on the reallocation of resources that could potentially affect the JSF,” the four-star general said at the time.