Suspending Turkey from the beleaguered F-35 program may prevent jet production from continuing at its current pace, a US government report has warned, as some Turkish-made parts still need to be sourced from elsewhere.
The $428-billion effort to build F-35 Lightning II fighter jets appears to have suffered another blow, according to a fresh review by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). Turkey’s departure from the program – intended to punish it for acquiring Russian-made S-400 air defense systems – “will likely further complicate existing supply chain challenges,” the GAO acknowledged.
While making the grim prediction, the GAO report cited officials from Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, and the key subcontractor Northrop Grumman. The body has also gathered and analyzed production and supply chain performance data from the former two companies as well as the program office.
Turkish contractors supplied as many as 1,005 parts for the F-35 airframe and engine, the watchdog revealed, and “some of these parts have been provided by only one supplier.” As of December 2019, new vendors had been found, but the program still needs to bring roughly 15 parts made in Turkey “up to the current production rate.”
Adding insult to injury, alternative producers won’t be able to manufacture these parts fast enough, as roughly 10 percent of them are new to the F-35 program. Also, the price of the components previously sourced from Turkey is likely to be higher, adding to the ballooning cost of the uber-expensive fifth-generation fighter.
Aside from that, the combat properties of the jet – marketed as superior to near-peer non-Western analogues – are below target, the GAO reiterated.
The F-35 aircraft in the field have not met standards for reliability and maintainability, indicating that the program is not delivering aircraft at the level of quality expected.
The assessment generally reflects what the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) found out previously, warning that a specific design glitch could cause damage to the Navy F-35C jet’s tail section if it flies at supersonic speeds for a long time.
Though being a longtime US ally within NATO, Turkey became a black sheep in the bloc after taking delivery of the S-400 missile launchers last year. In response, Washington promptly suspended Turkey from the list of contributors to the F-35 program, citing an acute danger the Russian-built systems would pose to the jet’s stealth features.
Ankara repeatedly slammed the expulsion and hit back at the decision, insisting that it was the country’s sovereign right to choose from suppliers outside of NATO. Simultaneously, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan teased the possibility of buying Russian-made jets if the F-35 deal cannot be revived.
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