Joint Strike Fighter Program and the Challenge of Interoperability
The United States has relied on its cohesion of security operations around the world to maintain peace in the international arena. Following the threat of the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created to solidify military interoperability and bolster economic stability to the member nations. Through its unique geostrategic position, bordering Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, Turkey has been a key partner in regional stability since joining NATO in 1952.
As of 2019, with 435,000 troops, Turkey ranks second in military personnel out of all NATO countries. Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base is also home to 51 B61 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, the most out of any membered state. Turkey has also been a key component of the Joint Strike Fighter program and contributed to the development of F135 Turbofan for the F-35 Lightning II since 2002. The multilateral Memorandum of Understanding put Turkey in charge of the Production, Sustainment, and Follow-On Development of the Joint Strike Fighter. The country was also selected as the Regional Fl35 Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul, and Upgrade Facility.
The Joint Strike Fighter Program named Turkey as the final assembler of the national-level Fl35 Engine. Turkish industry has also been responsible for almost 844 other F-35 parts. Alp Aviation produced airframe structure. Ayesas was the sole supplier of the F-35’s missile remote interface unit and panoramic cockpit display. Fokker Elmo manufactured 40% of the electrical wiring and interconnection system. Havelsan was integral to the integrated pilot and maintenance training center. Kale Aerospace is the sole supplier of all three variants landing gear up lock assemblies. Roketsan and Turbitak-SAGE developed, integrated, and produced the advanced precision-guided standoff missile. In conjunction with Northrup Grumman, Turkish Aerospace Industries manufactures and assembles the center fuselages and weapons bay doors for the fighter.
However, Turkey under President Erdogan has been reprimanded for their recent weapon system acquisitions. Recently, Turkey agreed to acquire the S-400 weapon system from Russia. This procurement was warned against by the US and other NATO allies and concerns relating to the introduction of a Russian weapons system into NATO infrastructure remain. As a result of this move, Congress has removed Turkey from the Joint Strike Fighter Program over fears of compromising the jet’s stealth capabilities. The proximity between the S400 systems and the F35 operating system is a major concern for congressional leaders who claim allowing Turkey to remain in the Joint Strike Fighter Program would give Russia an advantage over spotting and tracking the stealthy F35.
Despite congressional concerns, Vice Admiral Mathias Winter, the Executive Officer over the Joint Program Office has endorsed keeping Turkey as an F-35 partner in order to keep up with production demands. For the sake of risk management, the removal would be will be problematic from an acquisitions supply chain point of view as Japan added 105 it’s existing order of 42 F-35 Fighter planes.
Turkey hopes to remain a central player in NATO and hopes the United States will overlook the procurement of S400 system so they will still be able to buy the F35s. However, Turkey is prepared to look elsewhere after the purchase was vetoed by President Trump on July 17th, 2019. The biggest concern for policymakers and strategist should be the applicability between the F35 and B61 nuclear gravity bombs. Turkey possess 50 of these tactical warheads and has recently expressed their desire to acquire its own nuclear arsenal. As of now, Turkey lacks the delivery system or the pilot expertise to use the weapons in combat. However, the procurement of the S400 weapon system could be the first step in a new direction for Turkeys interoperability with a major Russian air force base in Syria and the first challenge of the United States in the Great Power Competition Era.