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F-35 jet program will fail without Turkey's support, President Erdogan says

Key Points
  • Turkish president says Tuesday that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet program will collapse without Turkey
  • NATO member Turkey is attempting to buy Russia’s S-400 missile system as well as the U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
  • Washington and the Pentagon have halted deliveries of the jets to Turkey unless Ankara backs out of its deal with Moscow.
An F-35 fighter jet is seen as Turkey takes delivery of its first F-35 fighter jet with a ceremony in Forth Worth, Texas, USA on June 21, 2018. Two such planes destined for Turkey are yet to leave American soil.
Atilgan Ozdil | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed that the U.S. F-35 fighter jet project will collapse without his country's input.

The combat plane, developed by Lockheed Martin and U.S. Department of Defense, is said to be the most expensive weapon ever built with a program price forecast to hit $1.5 trillion by 2070.

Speaking at the 2019 International Defense Industry Fair in Turkey on Tuesday, Erdogan said that an F-35 project without his country is "bound to collapse," according to Reuters. He added that those in the Pentagon that want to exclude Turkey from the plane's operation and manufacture should think again.

NATO member Turkey is currently due to receive two of the jets later this year and has more than 100 on order. The country also provides a small number of components that form part of the plane's manufacture.

But in early April, the United States halted delivery of equipment related to the stealth fighter to Turkey. The move was in direct protest at Ankara's planned purchase of a Russian missile S-400 defense system.

Washington sees Anakara's purchase of the missile system as a pivot toward warmer ties with Moscow, as well as a big a risk to the security of the F-35's technology.

VIDEO1:2301:23
Multibillion-dollar weapons sale between U.S., Turkey and Russia gets far more complicated

Aviation analyst Justin Bronk of the Royal United Services Institute in London (RUSI) told CNBC Tuesday that Erdogan's claims were an exaggeration and that the U.S. will not allow the program to fail.

"The future of the U.S. Air Force fighter fleet is bet lock, stock and barrel on the F-35 program. They will make it work," he said.

Bronk conceded that excluding Turkey would create some supply chain problems, at least in the short term.

"Particularly (given) that spares are already an issue and are hitting readiness rates and impacting costs for the U.S. air force, then needing to find additional capacity for certain components is an issue," he said by phone.

As it stands now, the unit price for an F-35A — including aircraft, engine and fees — stands at around $90 million. The F-35B and F-35C variants are currently priced at $115 million and $107 million per jet.

Turkey is one of the biggest external customers of the F-35 and Bronk said that losing order numbers will drive up the average unit cost. He added that given how central cost is to discussions around the program Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Air Force will be frustrated by having to exclude its NATO ally.

"This is absolutely not the U.S. joyously seizing on an excuse to get Turkey out of the F-35 program. They are really irritated about having to do this," he said.

Now watch: What it's like to fly an F-35:

VIDEO2:1902:19
We hopped into a F-35 simulator. Here's what it's like