Turkish officials receive first F-35 delivery from Washington despite tensions
Turkish officials in the US received the first shipment of F-35 stealth fighter jets from Washington despite tensions between the two countries and US lawmakers' opposition.
American defence giant Lockheed Martin officially transferred possession of the first plane, designed to evade even the most advanced radars, to Turkish officials during a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas.
A second plane is due to be delivered in the coming days and the two aircraft will be brought "at a later date" to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona where Turkish pilots and maintenance crews are receiving training, said Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews, a Pentagon spokesman.
US senators have opposed the aircraft's delivery in light of Ankara's plans to purchase Russian S-400 missile defence systems.
In a defence budget bill approved on Tuesday, the Senate demanded that F-35 sales be scrapped if Turkey goes ahead with the Russian purchase.
"Any effort by the government of the Republic of Turkey to further enhance their relationship with Russia will degrade the general security of the Nato alliance, and Nato member countries, and degrade interoperability of the alliance," the bill's text reads.
If both chambers of the US Congress approve that version of the bill, President Donald Trump's administration will be obliged to exclude Turkey from the F-35 programme, remove from the aircraft all parts made in Turkey and ban the Turkish F-35s from leaving US territory.
Turkey, along with 13 other Nato allies, has been a partner in the international consortium that financed the F-35 since 2002.
A US defence official stressed that "after aircraft production, the US government maintains custody of the aircraft until custody is transferred to the partner".
"This normally occurs after the lengthy process of foreign partner training is complete [one to two years]," the official added.
Ties between the two Nato allies have been strained since Turkey launched an offensive against Kurdish militia in northeastern Syria who are supported by the US.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also been irked at Washington for refusing to extradite US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he blames for a failed coup in 2016.
Earlier this week, Turkey's prime minister, Binali Yildirim. said he was disappointed by the US Senate's move and warned that Ankara could look elsewhere for aircraft.
"Turkey is not without alternatives," he was quoted as saying by Turkish Hurriyet newspaper. "Such attempts are regrettable and go against the soul of strategic partnership."