Jun 12 2019

Training of Turkish F-35 maintainers continues at U.S. Eglin base - Defence News

Despite the United States halting the training of Turkish pilots on the advanced F-35 fighter jets at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, the training of Turkish F-35 maintainers at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida continues, Defence News reported on Tuesday.

Some 28 of the 42 Turkish pilots and maintainers at Luke and Eglin will complete their training before July 31, the deadline set by Pentagon last week for complete suspension of Turkey’s participation to the F-35 programme if Ankara goes ahead with the purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems, Defence News said.

The remaining Turkish personnel at the bases will be sent home as of July 31 in accordance with the letter sent by acting U.S. Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan to his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar last week

The initial plan laid out by Shanahan would have allowed Turkish F-35 pilots to continue training at Luke Air Force Base, but the U.S. military opted to pause trainings due to concerns about Turkish pilots’ access to sensitive information, Foreign Policy reported on Tuesday.

Brigadier General Todd Canterbury last week also grounded two Turkish instructors and four students who had been training at Luke, cutting off their access to the so-called vault, which holds state secrets and classified information, Foreign Policy said.

Since foreign maintainers do not have access to classified data, same concerns do not exist for Turkish maintainers at Eglin Air Force Base, Defence news said.

“We have no concerns about the current students finishing their training as everything they do here is on an FOUO [for official use only] or unclassified level and they only work with training devices,” Defence news quoted Savannah Stephens, chief of public affairs for Eglin’s 33rd Fighter Wing, as saying.

All current jet mechanic students are scheduled to graduate on July 24 and 27, and the Turkish leadership team will leave on July 29, Stephens said.

“Turkey still has the option to change course. If Turkey does not accept delivery of the S-400, we will enable Turkey to return to normal F-35 program activities,” said Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s acquisition executive, on Friday. 

Turkish Defence Minister said on Wednesday that Ankara was preparing a response to Shanahan’s letter, which detailed a very disciplined and graceful wind-down of Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program according to Lord.