US President Donald Trump revealed on Thursday that large parts of the F-35 fighter jet is produced in Turkey, but that he is considering moving production to America.
Trump, whose remarks came in an interview with Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo Thursday, said parts for the F-35 jet are being made all over the world and also cited challenges of global cooperation.
“It’s a great jet, and we make parts for this jet all over the world. We make them in Turkey, we make them here, we’re going to make them there. All because President (Barack) Obama and others — I’m not just blaming him — thought it was a wonderful thing,” he said. “The problem is if we have a problem with a country, you can’t make the jet. We get parts from all over the place. It’s so crazy. We should make everything in the United States,” he said.
Asked whether transferring production to the U.S. in full would be possible, Trump said: “Yeah, we’re doing it because I’m changing all those policies.”
“Look, we make F-35s — very important, the greatest jet in the world — where the main body of the jet is made in Turkey, and then it’s sent here,” Trump said.
“Now we have good relations with President (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan. … What happens if we don’t have. Are they going to say ‘we are not gonna give you this, and now we have to gear up,'” Trump added.
While it is true that Turkey, as an international partner on the F-35 program, helps to manufacture the jet and build key components, Trump has overstated the role played by Turkey. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Turkey makes about 1,000 different components for the F-35.
The Pentagon is set to stop awarding F-35-related contracts to Turkish firms this year. According the GAO, the Defense Department already identified alternate suppliers for all components currently made in Turkey, and the department is working with those suppliers to speed up production.
When Trump talks about Turkey building the “main body” of the jet, he is talking about the center fuselage, some of which are built by Turkish Aerospace Industries. However, TAI is only the secondary supplier of the center fuselage, with Northrop Grumman making that component for the majority of F-35s. It is very likely that Northrop will take over production of that structure until another supplier is found to replace TAI.
Turkey’s Defense Industries Presidency (SSB) head İsmail Demir last week said the country is still producing and delivering parts for the F-35 jets despite being suspended from the program nearly a year ago.
“There was an understanding in the United States that nothing would be bought from Turkey for the F-35s after March 2020, but that approach is no longer there,” Demir said. “Our companies continue their production and delivery,” he noted, adding that Turkey remained a “loyal partner” of the F-35 program.
Taking Turkey out of the project would cost other members of the program up to $600 million, he said.
Washington announced last July that it was removing Turkey from the F-35 jet program over its purchase of Russian S-400 defense systems.
Ankara had ordered more than 100 of the stealth fighters, and Turkish defense companies were also involved in building the jets, manufacturing some of the critical components for the aircraft.
The Joint Strike Fighter program — which stems from efforts started in the 1990s — was structured not only to produce planes for the U.S. military but also for key allies. Nations that wanted to be “partners” on the program would help foot the bill for developing the jet in exchange for work producing components on the program.
There were several benefits to this structure. From an operational perspective, it would ensure that many of the Pentagon’s closest allies were using the same jet, making it easier to send information and coordinate military engagements.
From an industrial perspective, having a deep, multilayered global supply chain would theoretically make F-35 production less prone to disruption, and it could make it easier for Lockheed to distribute parts to sustain the jet worldwide.
There were also economic advantages for the United States. Having so much international buy-in ensured future sales, which benefited U.S. defense manufacturers and the Defense Department, which can buy its planes more cheaply due to economies of scale.
Originally there were nine partner nations on the program: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. However, the United States expelled Turkey from the program last year after the country purchased the Russian S-400 air defense system.