Shaheen, Tillis, Lankford & Van Hollen Announce Bipartisan Effort to Prohibit Transfer of F-35 Aircraft to Turkey Included in Committee-Approved Defense Bill

May 23, 2019

(Washington, DC) – Yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The annual legislation authorizes national defense objectives for the fiscal year. The defense bill includes bipartisan legislation authored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Thom Tillis (R-NC), James Lankford (R-OK) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) that would prohibit the transfer of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to Turkey. This provision also applies to equipment, intellectual property, technical data necessary for the maintenance or support of the F-35, and for the construction of facilities to store the F-35 in Turkey.

“As long as President Erdogan continues to move ahead with plans to acquire the S-400 Russian air defense system, any transfer of F-35 aircraft, equipment or supplies must be off the table,” said Senator Shaheen. “This measure has broad bipartisan support because both Democrats and Republicans understand the clear threats posed by introducing F-35s into airspace that will be closely monitored and controlled by the Russians through the S-400 system. President Erdogan may be comfortable with his decision to grant the Kremlin such broad access and insight into his nation’s airspace, but the Senate will not do the same with the United States’ most sensitive defense technologies. We must swiftly move this bill through Congress and see it signed into law so that our message is crystal clear.”

“Turkey cannot partner with the NATO alliance while simultaneously partnering with Russian defense contractors,” said Senator Lankford. “I am grateful that Chairman Inhofe and the Committee included my bipartisan bill to prevent the transfer of American state of the art defense technology to a country that will promptly allow the transfer of our military secrets to Russia. In the past, Turkey has been a strong NATO partner. But in the past few years, Turkey has wavered in its support. Until we know which direction President Erdogan and the Turkish government plan to go in the future, we should pause all military contracts and high-tech weapons transfers.”

“Turkey is an important NATO partner and strategic ally, but I remain deeply concerned about their attempts to buy and install the S-400 air defense system from Russia, an adversary of NATO,” said Senator Tillis. “I am proud this bipartisan legislation was included in the NDAA, and I strongly urge Turkey to cease this deal immediately so we can deliver the F-35 as originally planned and continue to work towards advancing the common interests of our countries.”

“If we allow Turkey to operate the Russian S-400 missile defense system alongside the F-35 aircraft, it would undermine the security of the United States and our NATO allies. We cannot allow that to happen. I’m proud to have worked with my colleagues on bipartisan legislation to ensure the Administration does not go down this dangerous path, and we’re pleased to announce the bill’s inclusion in this year’s NDAA legislation. Together, we can and will draw a hard line in the sand and protect vital national security interests,” said Senator Van Hollen.

Turkey currently expects delivery of its first F-35 as early as next fall and the delivery of the S-400 system as soon as this summer. President Erdogan’s insistence on having both non-interoperable defense systems is likely to lead to Turkey’s removal from the F-35 supply chain and to further sanctions on Turkey as per the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. Last year, Shaheen, Lankford and Tillis introduced a similar bill to restrict the transfer of fighter aircraft to Turkey by directing the Secretary of Defense to submit a plan to Congress to remove Turkey from participation in the F-35 program. That bill was ultimately included in the FY2019 NDAA. Shaheen, Lankford and Tillis also teamed up to raise the case and free Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was unjustly held by the Turkish government. Pastor Brunson was released in October 2018 after being detained for two years.