US Air Force halts Turkish F-35 pilot training amid Russian Federation dispute

Turkish F-35 pilots no longer flying at US base amid S-400 row

The move at Luke Air Force Base comes faster than expected, days after acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told his Turkish counterpart that their pilots who were already in the country could remain there until the end of July. Acting Secretary Shanahan said he was "unaware" of any plans to create a joint working group, adding that the S-400 was a "natural enemy" of the F-35 designed to shoot down the advanced United States warplane. That would have allowed time for more training and for Turkey to rethink its plans.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member Turkey's S-400 deal with Moscow has angered the U.S., which has threatened to remove Ankara from its F-35 fighter jet programme unless Turkey pulls out of the deal.

Turkey said on Tuesday a U.S. House of Representatives' resolution condemning Ankara's purchase of Russian defence systems and urging potential sanctions was unacceptably threatening.

Ankara had proposed the joint working group to assess Washington's concerns.

Training for Turkish F-35 pilots has stopped as the Pentagon prepares to expel Turkey from the joint strike fighter program, but Turkish students learning to maintain the F-35 at Eglin Air Force base will be able to complete their training, a base spokeswoman has confirmed.

A second United States official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that a local commander at Luke decided last week to halt the training of Turkish pilots and maintenance crews over safety concerns.

Ties between Ankara and Washington have already been tense over a host of issues, including conflicting strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of USA consular staff in Turkey.

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If Turkey were removed from the F-35 program, it would be one of the most significant ruptures in recent history in the relationship with the United States, experts said. Turkish officials have indicated that negotiations on the Patriot proposal are continuing, but have stressed that Ankara would not trade its S-400s for the US-made systems.

Regardless of the USA warnings, Turkey appeared to be moving ahead with the S-400 purchase.

FILE PHOTO: People walk past Russian S-400 missile air defence systems before the military parade to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad in World War Two, in the city of Volgograd, Russia February 2, 2018.

"The agreements reached between Russian Federation and Turkey are being fulfilled on time in the given context".

Late last month, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs Kathryn Wheelbarger said that the delivery of S-400s to Turkey would be "devastating, not only to the F-35 programme", but for "Turkish interoperability with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation".

"The credit money has been spent, the technology was produced".

The timetable would allow pilots now training on the F-35 to complete their training and for other pilots to be reassigned to other posts, Shanahan said.

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