An F-35 jet flies above Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Dane Wiedmann | Lockheed Martin
ORLANDO, Fla., — Bringing Turkey back into Lockheed Martin‘s F-35 program, following the nation’s messy multibillion-dollar deal with Russia, would be a colossal task for the Pentagon’s top weapons supplier.
“I think, politics aside, if we reintroduce Turkey into the program it would essentially be a restart,” Greg Ulmer, vice president and general manager of the F-35 program, told CNBC at the Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida.
“There would probably be some elements that are really simple and elements that are pretty difficult. I think you’d have to essentially treat it as a new start bringing them back into the program,” he added.
Last year, Turkey accepted delivery of the Russian-made S-400, a mobile surface-to-air missile system, that is said to pose a risk to the NATO alliance as well as Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter jet. On the heels of the delivery, the United States cut Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program, America’s most expensive weapons system.
“Unfortunately, Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible. The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence-collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the White House said in a statement at the time.
The move resulted in the forfeiture of Turkey’s F-35 jets and removal from the weapons program, the crown jewel in the Lockheed Martin’s portfolio.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II fighter jet at a ceremony on
Since Turkey’s removal, Ulmer said that the firm has felt added pressure on its margins. However, he expressed optimism about the program’s growth.
“Going forward I think there will be new opportunities because Poland, for example, I think we are going to find that they provide high quality at a lower cost and so we will take advantage of those kinds of opportunities,” he said, adding that Lockheed Martin has found other nations to replace Turkey’s contributions to the program.
In October, the Pentagon announced a $34 billion F-35 contract with Lockheed Martin, the largest contract yet for the defense company’s costly fighter program.
The deal for the delivery of 478 of the aircraft put the price tag below $80 million for an Air Force F-35, nearly a year earlier than planned.
Turkey’s messy weapons deal with the Kremlin
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands at a joint news conference on Syria following their meeting in Sochi, Russia.
Mikhail Metzel | TASS | Getty Images
In 2017, Ankara brokered a deal reportedly worth $2.5 billion with the Kremlin for the S-400 despite warnings from the U.S. that buying the system would come with political and economic consequences.
The S-400, the successor to Russia’s S-200 and S-300 missile systems, made its debut in 2007. Compared with U.S. systems, the Russian-made S-400 is believed to be capable of engaging a wider array of targets, at longer ranges and against multiple threats simultaneously.
In multiple efforts to deter Turkey from buying the S-400, the State Department offered in 2013 and 2017 to sell to the country Raytheon‘s Patriot missile system. Ankara passed on the Patriot both times because the U.S. declined to provide a transfer of the system’s sensitive missile technology.
All the while, Turkey became a financial and manufacturing partner for Lockheed Martin‘s F-35 jet, the world’s most advanced fighter.
The F-35 Lightning II production line at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
Lockheed Martin has previously said that it took preparatory steps to limit the impact of Turkey’s removal from the program by finding other vendors to replace Ankara’s portion of the supply chain.
“Over the last several months we’ve been working to establish alternative sources of supply in the United States to quickly accommodate Turkey’s current contributions to the program,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement at the time.
Ankara faces sanctions for doing business with the Kremlin.
Under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, which President Donald Trump signed in August 2017, Turkey could face economic sanctions for buying the Russian-made S-400 missile system.
Moscow hopes to secure another deal with Ankara for more S-400 missile systems in the first half of next year, Alexander Mikheev, the head of Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport said in November.