Turkish pilots to leave US after Turkey’s removal from F-35 program

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A US soldier guards a US F35 stealth aircraft at the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX) in Seongnam, south of Seoul, on October 16, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES

Turkish pilots who have been training to operate F-35 stealth jets in the US will return home on Thursday after the US expelled Turkey from the F-35 program over Turkey’s purchase of a Russian-made S-400 missile defense system, the T24 news website reported.

A total of 43 personnel, six of whom were pilots, were undergoing training at Luke and Eglin airbases. The program was scheduled to continue until the end of 2020 and have ultimately trained 13 pilots along with more than 300 other staff.

A statement by the US Department of Defense two weeks ago announced Turkey had been removed from the program and that the pilots needed to leave the US by July 31.

The decision came as Turkey began accepting delivery of the Russian missile defense system, which US officials insisted would pose the risk of Russian subterfuge for the F-35s.

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