The United States has decided not to accept more Turkish pilots scheduled to be received in the United States for F-35 fighter training, according to two US officials, in a clear sign of a growing dispute over Ankara’s intention to buy Russian air defenses.
Turkey and the United States, both NATO partners, have been in a dispute for months over a Turkish request to buy the Russian S-400 defense system, which Washington sees as a threat to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets and Turkey is also planning to buy.
The United States says Turkey can not own the Russian system and US fighter jets, but has so far avoided taking steps to curb or halt the planned training of Turkish pilots.
The two US officials, who spoke to Reuters this week asking for anonymity, have left open the possibility of reversing the decision, perhaps if Turkey changes its plans.
They said the decision only applies to future payments from Turkish pilots and Turkish maintenance crews, which usually come to the United States.
The two sources said there was no official decision so far to stop training Turkish pilots and maintenance crews at Locke Air Force Base in Arizona. However, Reuters said last week the move was being seriously considered.
Four Turkish pilots are currently training at Locke Base. There are two additional Turkish pilots at the base who are teaching. Unlike the six Turkish military personnel, the US military said 20 Turkish aircraft maintenance personnel were at the base and were undergoing training.
Turkey has shown interest in buying 100 fighters with a total value of $ 9 billion at current prices.