Department of Defense Off-Camera Press Briefing on Turkey’s Participation in the F-35 Program

Reporters question Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen M. Lord and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy Andrew Winternitz


STAFF:  OK, so good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for joining us.  Today, Under Secretary of Defense Ellen Lord and Mr. Andy Winternitz, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO are here on the record to discuss Turkey’s future participation in the F-35 program and continued military-to-military relations.  Ms. Lord has an opening statement, and then we’ll go into questions.  We do have a hard stop at 1:30, so please be respectful with your questions so everyone, if possible, will have a chance.

Ma’am, over to you.

Department of Defense’s Ellen Lord.

UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ELLEN M. LORD:  Good afternoon.  Thank you for attending today.

The unit — the United States greatly values the U.S.-Turkey dialogue and our strategic partnership.  However, the United States was disappointed to learn that Turkey sent personnel to Russia for training on the S-400 system.  The S-400 is incompatible with the F-35.  As we have very clearly communicated at all levels, Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400 system.  Thus, we need to begin unwinding Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program.

None of the steps we are taking are irreversible.  If Turkey chooses to forgo delivery of the S-400, we look forward to restoring normal program activity.  Consistent with our strong desire to manage the unwinding of Turkey’s participation in an orderly, respectful and deliberate manner, we have charted a path that will allow sufficient time for Turkish personnel associated with the F-35 program to be reassigned and depart the United States by July 31, 2019.

To facilitate an orderly cessation of Turkish participation in the programmatic management activities of the F-35 program, Turkey will not participate in the annual F-35 Chief Executive Officer Roundtable on June 12th, and planned updates to the program’s governing documents will proceed without Turkey’s participation.  If the United States and Turkey cannot reach a mutually-agreeable resolution to this issue by July 31, all Turkish F-35 students and instructor pilots currently in the United States will be required to depart the country.

The United States will move forward with a plan to update to the production, sustainment and follow-on development memorandum of understanding with all partners except Turkey.  Cooperative project personnel at the F-35 Joint Program Office will be reassigned no later than July 31.  At this point, all invitational travel orders will be canceled, and Turkish Air Force personnel will be prohibited from entering JPO facilities.

The U.S. will continue to suspend indefinitely F-35 material deliveries and activities.  No new training will begin.  Turkey will receive no new workshare in the F-35 program.  Its current workshare will be transitioned to alternate sources as they are qualified and come to rate production.  This deliberate, measured approach, intended to allow our Turkish counterparts to adjust to this transition, will be greatly accelerated if Turkey accepts delivery of the S-400 prior to July 31.

Our F-35 international partnership is strong and resilient.  I most recently met with our partners in April to discuss the challenges Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 presents to our F-35 air system, and we have been working in earnest for the last six months to develop and implement changes to our supply base to accommodate the potential for Turkish suspension from the program.  Cessation of Turkish participation in F-35 training activities will have no impact on the larger F-35 partnership.

These actions are intended to mediate risks posed by the S-400 to the F-35, and are separate from any congressionally-mandated, Russia-related sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA.  There is strong bipartisan U.S. congressional determination to see CAATSA sanctions imposed on Turkey if Turkey acquires the S-400.

U.S. and Turkish defense officials, from the level of the acting secretary on down, continue to engage on this issue.  The United States has sent technical items — I’m sorry, technical teams to Turkey and hosted counterparts here to discuss the threat posed by the S-400; our mutual participation in the F-35 program, and the U.S. Patriot offer.

The United States has been in active negotiations with Turkey over the sale of the Patriot Air and Missile Defense Systems since 2009 to satisfy its legitimate air defense needs.  Should Turkey agreed to suspend its S-400 acquisition, the United States is willing to partner with Turkey immediately to study ways to enhance Turkish security and address allied concerns with Turkey’s S-400 purchase.  We seek only to protect the long-term security of the F-35 program and the capabilities of the NATO alliance, including Turkey.

Let me reiterate: 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.  Turkey is a close NATO ally and our military-to-military relationship is strong.  We have a commitment to ensure the safety of our NATO ally and support missions benefiting regional security and stability, including current counterterrorism operations in the region.

STAFF:  Sir, did you have anything that you’d like to say?

The Defense Department’s Andrew Winternitz.

ACTING DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ANDREW WINTERNITZ:  Well, I think I’ll just — I’ll just start off and — and say something very brief before, you know, we go into Q&A.  But obviously, the United States greatly values the U.S.-Turkey relationship.  It’s a strategic relationship.  They are our ally, and our relationship is multi-layered.  We’re doing a lot of things with Turkey across the — the entire spectrum of our — of our security relationship, and — and that’s — and that will not end at all.  That won’t be influenced, we hope, by what’s going on right now with the S-400 and the F-35.

For example, we will continue doing bilateral, multilateral exercises.  There is one coming up called Anatolian Eagle, which Turkey is hosting later this month, a multilateral exercise on interoperability and readiness, and we’ll continue to participate in that.

And so, you know, this is — the department’s actions here on this issue regarding the F-35 are based on the risks that the S-400 presence in Turkey would have, and — and that’s sort of where we are on this.  So I think I’ll leave it at that for now, and (inaudible)

STAFF:  OK, thank you very much, sir.


Q:  So I just wanted to ask, you know, the — the Turkish president has been very clear that he is going to — he’s not going to back away from this acquisition of the S-400.  But what do any (inaudible) keep opening the door for Turkey and saying they had an opportunity to change course — do you have any reason to be optimistic?  And is this move today just meant to show that the — that the U.S. isn’t — isn’t bluffing here?  Or what is the purpose?  Because the — the threat — and the conservatives have made, you know, over and over and over again.

MS. LORD:  Mmm hmm. This discussion today is part of an ongoing dialogue we’ve been having at many different levels.  Secretary Shanahan and Minister Akar have had an ongoing dialogue including two meetings here in the building in the last couple of months.  And we just want to be very clear on what our position is, and make sure that the Turks understand that we are here to support them in air defense, but that the S-400 is incompatible with the F-35.

MR. WINTERNITZ:  I’d just add to that, that when — when Turkey started training on the S-400 in Russia, that was a — that was a signal that we needed to — to take action as well and show that we were serious, and where our position is regarding the fact that the S-400 and the F-35 are not going to operate together.

Q:  And which countries — I’m sorry.

STAFF:  No, go ahead.

Q:  Which countries are going to take up the supply that Turkey is not going to be (inaudible)?

MS. LORD:  Right now, the U.S. has handled finding second sources, and they’re predominantly U.S. sources.  That’s not to say we won’t continue to do what we always do with good program management and look for other sources, because we would like to have second, third sources for most of the items.

STAFF:  Colin?

Q:  Hi.

You say that NATO and Turkey remain close.  But Turkey has taken action after action, on the S-400, on the Kurds, on a range of other issues that seem to indicate that they do not share that view.  Are you trying to, sort of, isolate the F-35 issue from the rest of NATO issues?

What are the longer-term strategic implications if they do buy the S-400?  It would seem to establish a major new relationship with the Russians, a qualitatively and quantitative difference.

MS. LORD:  I’m only addressing the F-35 and we’re keeping that separate and distinct.


MR. WINTERNITZ:  Yeah.  I’ll take — you know, I have a response to you on this.

I think in our discussions, you know, with the acting secretary and at all levels below, our counterparts really want to continue our — really strategic partnership and our cooperation at NATO.

And so this is — this is — we hope this is an aberration.  We do believe that this purchase is actually incompatible with commitments that Turkey made at NATO, especially at the 2016 — the summit declaration from 2016, which called for spinning down, you know, equipment from Russia and not any new purchases as well.

So, you know, this is Turkey’s choice and we’ll — we’ll adjust.

Q:  Is my characterization fair if they do buy the S-400?

MR. WINTERNITZ:  I’m sorry, which characterization …


Q:  There is a quantitative and qualitative change in the relationship.

MR. WINTERNITZ:  I would say it — it changes our relationship, but I don’t know if it’s something — it’s not something that we hope is going to disturb the — the many-layered strategic relationship that we have, strategic partnership that we have with Turkey across a number of issues.

STAFF:  Lita?

Q:  Is there — does the U.S. reimburse Turkey for the four F-35s that have already been purchased?

And has there been any indication in any of the meetings with any of the Turkish government leaders, that they are willing to make any changes to their decision on the S-400?  Everything they’ve said publicly suggests no.  Have you heard anything from them within these meetings that suggests a change of decision is even remotely possible?

MS. LORD:  For the first part of the question, we are under discussions right now here internally as to how we are going to deal with the four aircraft that they’ve already taken delivery on and that are at Luke Air Force Base right now.

I think the fact that Minister Akar continues to come and meet with us, continues to have phone calls with us, continues to send letters back and forth shows that there’s a desire to find a way forward.

Q:  There was a suggestion not that long ago from Turkey that they seem to indicate the U.S. was willing to sit down or talk to them about this — this technological team that would show that the S-400 wouldn’t interfere with the F-35.  Are you closing the door to that type of discussion?

MS. LORD:  We have been very consistent all along that we are not going to discuss technical mitigations to the S-400.

Q:  Thank you.

Q:  Tara Copp with McClatchy.

To follow-up on Phil’s question, the parts that Turkey had been producing, could you describe those parts and maybe what vendors — or maybe what U.S. vendors are picking up the slack?

MS. LORD:  There were 930 — or there are 937 parts produced by Turkish industries.  Over — a little over 400 of them were sole-sourced.  That’s what we are particularly focused on.  And we are working with Northrop — I’m sorry — with Lockheed Martin on the aircraft side, with Pratt & Whitney on the engine side, to find alternate sources.  They are the ones making the decisions to do that.  We are well underway but it has not been finalized, and we can share with — that with you if we get closer to that alternative.

Q:  Could you, by chance, just provide a few examples of the parts that are having to be … ?

MS. LORD:  They’re — a lot of the land — the landing gear — a large portion of that, center fuselage.

STAFF:  Justin?

Q:  Yeah.  I just wanted to ask about the impacts on the program.  I think Vice Admiral Winter suggested that about 50 to 75 aircraft could be delayed over a two-year period.  Is that still the assessment, or what’s, kind of, the impact of this one?

MS. LORD:  What we are doing is working to do a very disciplined and graceful wind-down.  If we can work to our timelines with the Turks, we would have no major disruptions and very few delays.

What Vice Admiral Winter was alluding to is, if we had to terminate supply, you know, early this summer.

STAFF:  (Off mic)?

Q:  (Off mic) Could I — sorry.

Q:  Oh, I’m sorry …

Do you feel confident that President Trump is onboard with your decision?  He has a habit of getting on the phone with Erdogan and changing his mind.

MS. LORD:  We continue to work very closely with NSC and State and all of government.  So there are very open lines of communication.

STAFF:  Go ahead.

Q:  So what’s the status of the engine depot in Turkey?  Is that going to move to Holland or are other plans for it?

MS. LORD:  We stopped shipping materials to stand up that MRO&U facility, and there are two European MRO&Us that can absorb the volume with no issue whatsoever.

Q:  And there’s — there’s no plans right now to do anything with the nuclear weapons that are in Turkey?

MS. LORD:  I can’t address that.

MR. WINTERNITZ:  I’m not going to address that.

STAFF:  Valerie?

Q:  So for — you mentioned that the current work share is going to be transitioned to other vendors.  Are they going to be allowed to finish out their contracts or is that also being cut at July 31st?

MS. LORD:  What we are doing is talking about a wind-down in early 2020.

Q:  OK.  And just a larger-picture question: At this point, you know, Turkey’s had a very large, you know, view into the technical information of the build of this jet, and their pilots also are almost all the way through training so they have a view into technical information.  How do you guys make sure that all of that stays safe?

MS. LORD:  Well, we control what is downloaded from our computers.  We have shared what’s appropriate.  The Turks have no critical documentation that we are concerned about.

Q:  What about what’s in the pilot’s heads?

MR. WINTERNITZ:  Well, I — I would just make — you know, Turkey’s a — a NATO ally, a strong NATO ally and — and we have information-sharing agreements with them, and we expect that they’ll continue to uphold their end of those agreements.

STAFF:  Oriana?

Q:  Is the U.S. prepared for Turkey to respond and take its own action by potentially spending U.S. operations in Incirlik Air Base?

MR. WINTERNITZ:  I — I don’t think that — I think that’s a hypothetical, and I don’t think I’m going to go down that road.

STAFF:  Tom?

Q:  I want to follow up real quick, and then questions on Valerie’s point about the wind-down.  So the parts that are made by Turkish outfits will continue until some point into 2020.  Am I understanding correctly?

MS. LORD:  That’s what we would like to see happen.

Q:  See happen, OK.

MS. LORD:  We want to have a process that is not disruptive to the program and allows the Turks to wind down their activities, as well.

Q:  Thanks.  My question is, in all the discussions with the Turks over the S-400s and their needs, their anti-missile defense needs, have the Turks ever identified or suggested who they feel the threat is likely to come from?  I ask this because NATO is designed, of course, to combat the Soviet Union and Russia.  And so to — to me, it’s — it seems a little puzzling that the — the logical threat to them would come from Russia or an ally of Russia, yet they’re relying on a Russian system.  Have you ever talked about who they thought the threat was going to come from?

MR. WINTERNITZ:  Well, hey, listen, Turkey’s obviously in a — in a very tough neighborhood, and so they — I think they face threats from a — from a number of places, and — but they have — they’ve identified this as a security need. And we have — we are willing to discuss with them a solution that does not involve the S-400 as — as soon as they’re ready to discuss that — you know, that with us.

STAFF:  Luis?

Q:  Hi.  Just a very basic question.  Cause — kind of new to all of this, so I — I apologize.  You — you finished your statement by saying that the F-35 is incompatible with the S-400; can you just explain what that is — what are the concerns that you have?  What — what does that actually mean when you say incompatible?  Aside from the basic that one is American, and the other is Russian?

MS. LORD:  We do not want to have the F-35 in close proximity to the S-400 over a period of time because of the ability to understand the profile of the F-35 on that particular piece of equipment.

Q:  And you’re talking about the radar profile of — of the aircraft, and — or any potential vulnerabilities that it (inaudible) …

STAFF:  Sylvie?

Q:  Do you — do you think that there is — differences of opinion on the F-35 and the S-400 between the Turkish military and the executive?  You’re thinking Turkey itself, there are differences?

MR. WINTERNITZ:  I — I would defer questions on that to — to Turkey. I don’t think I’m going to get into that.

STAFF:  Go ahead.

Q:  Brian Everstine of Air Force Magazine.  You had mentioned Anatolian Eagle.  So the Air Force is still planning to send six F-15s, I believe, to fly?  And in the future, would the U.S. military feel safe doing those sort of operations in a country that has the S-400 if Turkey does take delivery?

MR. WINTERNITZ:  You know, I think we have to evaluate what we’re doing exactly there.  I think, you know, obviously, if they do set up the S-400, that is going to — to affect how we look at those types of exercises in the future.  But for now, we’re — we’re committed to — to sustaining our strategic partnership with them, including this upcoming exercise.

Q:  Hi, just to be clear, so July 31st is the deadline for Ankara to cancel S-400 by and accept the U.S.’s current L.O.A. on Patriot?

MR. WINTERNITZ:  I don’t think that’s exactly correct.  I think it’s a little bit — little bit different than that.  What we’re saying is that we’re going to start winding down the training that Turkey is doing here in the United States and their participation in the program, because they’ve started, you know, training on the S-400.

And so it’s not a — it’s not a deadline, in a sense.  It is — but it is a — a goal for us to where we will have wound it down. And also, you know, so that nothing else new is starting up.

MS. LORD:  Yeah.  And the one caveat is, if we see further activity, we could accelerate that wind-down.

MR. WINTERNITZ:  That’s right.

Q:  And, just at this point in the negotiations, have the U.S. considered potentially handing over Patriot’s technology suite, the crown jewel, so to speak, to Turkey?

MR. WINTERNITZ:  I mean, we — we’ve discussed with them; we’ve made an offer on — on what we can do.  I’m not going to get into the specifics of the offer, but obviously we will always protect our technology as best we can.

STAFF:  Go ahead, Marcus.

Q:  In the letter Secretary Shanahan sent to his counterpart yesterday, he talks about this possibly going beyond the F-35.  Can you talk about what else you guys are looking at, other programs you’re looking at suspension of cooperation with?

MS. LORD:  Really, when it goes beyond the F-35, it gets into the State Department’s realm and I would defer to them.

Q:  So it doesn’t include any arms sales stuff; it was more of the exercise stuff that — or cooperation?

MS. LORD:  Well, in terms of any further actions or sanctions, that’s the State Department.

Q: Yep.

STAFF:  Jenny?

Q:  Oh, sorry, that was my question, actually.  But I didn’t know if yet there are any weapons systems that could — are also incompatible with the S-400?

MS. LORD:  We have not addressed that.  We’ve addressed the F-35.

STAFF:  Go ahead.

Q:  A quick question:  just looking for some more detail on this training mission that Turkish forces went to in Russia.  Do you have any more detail as far as how many Turkish troops went?  Is this the first time that they’ve gone over for training?  Is there any indication from Turkey that these — these troops being trained will be now withdrawn now that the department has taken this — this position?

MR. WINTERNITZ:  I mean — I mean, to your last point there, you know, that would be great, but I think what we know on this is what Turkey has shared publicly, that they’ve started the training in Russia.

Q:  Wow.

Q:  What — what specifically do you need to see Turkey do to halt the winding down of — of this participation in the F-35?

Even if they don’t take delivery next month, it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t take delivery in August or September.  Do you need them to, sort of, renounce and rip up the contract publicly, or — what is it that they have to do to stop this?

MR. WINTERNITZ:  I think it would be great if they started winding down their acquisition of the S-400.  I mean, I think, obviously, you know, a good signal would be if they were to stop the training in Russia.  That would be a great signal to us, and then we can — but we’re willing to discuss those — those matters with them when they’re ready.

STAFF:  One last one, and then we’re going to go ahead and go (inaudible).

Q:  Me?

STAFF:  Yep.

Q:  Oh, cool. (Laughter.)

Do you think that this is going to have any impact on the contract negotiations that are ongoing?

Turkey’s obviously —

MS. LORD:  Which contract negotiations are you referring to?

Q:  The LREP-11 and beyond — or sorry — LREP-12 and beyond?

MS. LORD:  Not — not at all, not at all.

Q:  OK.  And why — why do you guys — why aren’t you guys having the pilots pause their training now, or have them go back now?  Why have them — have so many of them complete their training?

MS. LORD:  We actually had a new tranche of pilots that were supposed to arrive in June not come, and what we’re trying to do is be respectful with the Turks as we move along.  And we’re hopeful that they will stop the acquisition of the S-400.  We’d very much like them to stay in the program, have the F-35 and not have the S-400.

STAFF:  So we’re going to go ahead and stop there.  Sir, do you have any closing remarks?  No ? Mister … ?

MR. WINTERNITZ:  No.  No. (Laughter.)

STAFF:  Do you have anything you would like to add?

MR. WINTERNITZ:  I don’t.  I think we’ve basically said what we need to say.  And thank you, everybody, for — for coming out for this.

STAFF:  Ma’am, do you have any closing remarks?

MS. LORD:  I just wanted to say that this — everything that we’re talking about, in terms of winding down the program, is not an irreversible decision.  So if Turkey wants to stop procurement of the S-400, we would very much like them to continue in the F-35 program.

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