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Turkey likely to order Lockheed F-35 fighters in 2015

Workers can be seen on the moving line and forward fuselage assembly areas for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Lockheed Martin Corp's facto
Workers can be seen on the moving line and forward fuselage assembly areas for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Lockheed Martin Corp's facto

By Tulay Karadeniz

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey is likely to start ordering F-35 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp from 2015 onwards and it will start with two orders initially, Turkey's undersecretary for state-run defense industries Murad Bayar said on Thursday.

"We will start F-35 orders either this year or the next. Right now, it is likely to be next year," Bayar told reporters. "We will initially order two. The delivery time will be, depending on the orders, probably in 2017-2018."

Turkey had already announced it plans to buy 100 F-35 jets for $16 billion. Bayar said he expected the deliveries of 100 aircraft to be completed within 10 years.

The F-35, considered to be the world's most expensive weapons program at $396 billion so far, was designed to be the next-generation fighter jet for the U.S. forces.

It is being built by the United States, Britain and seven other co-development partners - Italy, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands.

Separately, Bayar said Turkey was aiming to achieve results in April on its talks with China over the purchase of long-range missile defense systems, a move highly criticized by Turkey's NATO allies.

In September Turkey chose China's FD-2000 missile-defense system over rival offers from Franco-Italian Eurosam SAMP/T and U.S.-listed Raytheon Co . It said China offered the most competitive terms and would allow co-production in Turkey.

U.S. and NATO officials have raised concerns with Turkish officials about the decision to buy the system from CPMIEC, a company hit by U.S. sanctions for sales of items to either Iran, Syria or North Korea that are banned under U.S. laws to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

"Our talks with China are ongoing. We have extended the bidding until the end of April. We are aiming to get results in early April on this," Bayar said.

AIRBUS DELIVERIES

Bayar also said Turkey will seek compensation over the late delivery of the A400 military transport plane after Airbus failed to meet some of its contractual obligations.

"My message to Airbus is that it should first focus on fulfilling the terms of the contract. There is no additional bargaining here. The contract, even with the amended version, requires the fulfillment of certain technical qualities and we have had to hold these talks because these requirements were not completely fulfilled," Bayar said.

On Wednesday, Airbus chief executive Tom Enders said bargaining was behind the delay and that it was 'unbearable' that the company was still negotiating with Turkey over the plane.

"The aircraft is ready to go. It is instantly, operationally fit for flight. I find the situation increasingly unacceptable," Enders told reporters.

Bayar said he still expected the aircraft, which was supposed to have been delivered to Turkey at the end of last year, to arrive in March but Turkey was going to ask for compensation.

"Of course there has been a delay in the delivery schedule and there will be compensation because of this. This will be the financial dimension," Bayar said.

Meanwhile, Bayar said Japan had told Turkey that it will not allow the export of a Japanese tank engine to third parties without its permission.

His comments came after Japanese media reported that a deal between Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe was struck in May, during Abe's visit to Turkey, on the supply of engines, but that Turkey's desire to export to third parties was likely to block the deal.

Bayar said that the potential purchase of the engine for Turkey's Altay tank was dropped for now.

"We have agreed with Japanese authorities to leave this topic off the agenda and focus on other areas of cooperation."

His comments appeared to close the door on a potential deal for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries <7011.T> to supply engines for the Altay tank being developed by Turkey's Otokar .

(Additional reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo and Tim Kelly in Tokyo; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk and Daren Butler; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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