The Pentagon will acquire eight F-35A jets previously bound for Turkey, plus six more F-35As under an $861.7 million contract announced by the Pentagon on July 20.
The contract modifies a previous fixed-price award and “exercises options to procure eight Lot 14 F-35A Lightning II repositioned aircraft as a result of the Republic of Turkey’s removal from the F-35 program.” The other six Air Force F-35As covered by the contract are from the same lot. The deal funds “recurring engineering” to modify the Turkish-ordered jets to meet USAF specifications. Work is to be completed by May 2026.
Turkey once planned to buy 100 or more F-35s, which would have made it among the largest F-35 operators. But when Turkey opted to buy the Russian S-400 air defense system, the remaining F-35 partners ejected Turkey from the program. U.S. and allied officials said at the time the S-400 was “incompatible” with operating the Lightning II. Russian technicians operating in close proximity to the F-35 would have been able to glean secrets of its stealthy characteristics, the U.S. said.
At the time, Turkey already had four F-35s in the U.S. that were awaiting disposition. The Pentagon has previously declined to say what would become of those aircraft or subsequent Turkish orders. The term “repositioned aircraft” in the contract indicates USAF will take Turkey’s place in line for these F-35s, accelerating its purchases.
Air Force leaders have said they need 72 new fighters annually to rejuvenate their aging fighter force. In its fiscal 2021 defense bill markups, Congress added 12 F-35As to the 48 the Air Force asked for, bringing the year’s total to 60. Lawmakers also approved a planned purchase of 12 F-15EXs, achieving the 72-jet target.