WASHINGTON — Turkey signed on for the next phase of the Joint Strike Fighter in a ceremony here Jan. 25 pledging $175 million toward the aircraft's production. Turkey also promised to buy 100 of the conventional-take-off-and-landing version of the aircraft, being developed by the Navy, Air Force, Marines and allies.
In a Pentagon E-wing room, flanked by about 30 Turkish and U.S. dignitaries and program officers, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England met with Turkey's National Defense Minister Mehmet Vecdi Gonul and Undersecretary for Defense Industries Murad Bayar for the signing of the memorandum of understanding that will take Turkey into the production, sustainment and follow-on development phase of the Joint Strike Fighter program.
Gonul also met with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today at the Pentagon.
Before yesterday's signing, England said he has spent several years cultivating U.S. relations with Turkey and called the Turkish officials present "dear, close friends."
"Our country is privileged to have such a strong and dynamic ally in Turkey," England said. "Together our two nations are standing together in the name of freedom."
By partnering in this program, the two countries are "building a safe and more secure world for our children and grandchildren," England said.
Gonul called the Joint Strike Fighter program "the way forward" for his country and its air force.
"Today is an important day and big milestone for the future of the Turkish air force," Gonul said. "The Turkish government is extremely proud to be a part of the Joint Strike Fighter program."
Bayar said the new F-35 Lightning II will replace Turkey's aging F-16 fighters and will be the "backbone for the Turkish air force."
The deal could cost Turkey more than $10 billion over 20 years, the largest defense project in Turkish history. Turkey has the lowest per capita income of any of the Joint Strike Fighter partners, Gonul said.
The agreement provides a framework for future program efforts in production and beyond and will extend cooperation beyond the current development and demonstration agreement between the United States and the other eight Joint Strike Fighter partner nations -- the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia. Turkey joined the system development and demonstration phase in 2002.
All but Italy, Norway and Denmark have signed on to the next phase of the production. DoD officials met with officials from those countries this week, and all are on board, just working out the details, said Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Kenneth Krieg. Those countries are expected to sign the memorandum by the end of February.
The Joint Strike Fighter is the largest ever DoD acquisition program. The F-35 Lightning II is a supersonic, multi-role, stealth fighter designed to replace a wide range of existing aircraft. Three versions of the aircraft will be built: a conventional-takeoff-and-landing variant, an aircraft-carrier version and a short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing version. Initial plans call for building 2,400 of the aircraft at a cost of about $200 billion.
The F-35 Lightning II is in the flight test mode and has flown two successful test flights, Dec. 15 and Jan. 8, from Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth, Texas, facility.