Turkish pilots will continue to train with F-35 fighter jets at a U.S. Air Force base in Arizona, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
“Turkish pilot and maintainer training at Luke AFB is continuing,” Air Force Lieutenant Col. Mike Andrews, a Defense Department spokesman, told Anadolu Agency.
The remarks are in contrast to comments made earlier in the day by Senator Jim Inhofe, who said a decision was made to stop training the Turkish pilots.
“I’m not aware of any delay in training at Luke. I have confirmed that the training is continuing. If that changes, we’ll let you know,” said Andrews.
The U.S. announced Monday that it would be suspending all “deliveries and activities” related to Turkey’s procurement of the stealth fighter jet over Ankara’s plans to purchase Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile system.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Tuesday he expects to resolve the dispute between the U.S. and Turkey over the S-400s.
Turkey first joined the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program in 2002 and has invested more than $1.25 billion. It also manufactures various aircraft parts for all F-35 variants and customers.
The two F-35s already delivered to Turkey are currently at Luke Air Force Base, where Turkish pilots are being trained. The jets were scheduled to be transferred to Turkey in November this year.
Shanahan said he expects that they will be delivered.
Ankara is planning to purchase 100 F-35 fighter jets from the U.S.
Turkey decided in 2017 to purchase the S-400 system following protracted efforts to purchase air defense systems from the U.S. with no success.
Washington has repeatedly cautioned Turkey against the purchase of the S-400 system, warning it might be used to covertly obtain critical information on the F-35, including its detection range, which could then be relayed to Russia.
During a ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia between U.S. and South Korean defense officials, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said he hopes an arrangement can be made between the two countries over the S-400 system and the F-35 jets.
“As you know, it’s a complicated issue, and the S-400 and the F-35, we’ve made it clear that those are incompatible systems. But we’re still working our way through that and hope we can come up with an arrangement with Turkey,” Dunford said.