The United States is seriously considering suspending training for Turkish pilots on advanced F-35 fighter jets, the two NATO allies have argued for months over Turkey’s order for the Russian S-400 defenses, which Washington says are incompatible with the Western alliance’s defense network and would pose a threat to American F-35 stealth fighters which Turkey also plans to buy.
The two sources, who are familiar with Turkey’s role in the F-35 program and who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a final decision had not yet been made.
The deliberation follows signs that Turkey is moving ahead with the S-400 purchase. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on May 22 that Turkish military personnel were receiving training in Russia to use the S-400, and said Russian personnel may come to Turkey.
Turkish pilots have also been training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. It was unclear whether a decision to suspend their training would mean they would have to leave the country, or would be allowed to remain at the base until a final decision is made about Turkey’s future in the F-35 program.
The United States has said plainly that Turkey cannot have the S-400 and be part of the F-35 program. The F-35 is made by Lockheed Martin Corp.
If Turkey was removed from the program, it would be one of the most significant ruptures in recent history in the relationship between the two allies, experts say.