* Turkey not currently thinking of abandoning purchases
* Partners reconsidering orders amid delays, rising costs
* Turkey to order two jets for 2015 delivery
ISTANBUL, Feb 23 Turkey is sticking to
plans to buy 100 of Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jets
for $16 billion, with an initial order of two planes for
delivery in 2015, its defence minister said, amid concerns about
the project's delays and rising costs.
The Pentagon has said the $382 billion programme to build
the radar-evading warplane was still showing "continued
progress" and Lockheed said the aircraft had made outstanding
progress in flight test, training and production in 2011.
However, international partners are reconsidering their
orders. Canada has called a March 2 meeting of officials from
the partner nations, which include Turkey, Britain, Australia,
Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway in Washington.
"Abandoning the planes' purchase is not being considered
currently," Turkish Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz said in a
written answer to a question from an opposition lawmaker, a copy
of which was obtained by Reuters on Thursday.
"In the first stage, orders will be given for two F-35
planes. Turkey plans in total to buy 100 F-35 warplanes," the
"As of today the total amount which will be paid under the
project is envisaged to be around $16 billion," he added.
He said the level of plane orders for future years will be
considered in the light of ongoing negotiations. Turkey's
payments so far in the development phases of the project
totalled $315 million.
Lockheed Martin, the No. 1 U.S. defence contractor, lost
$31.5 million in award fees for the F-35 in 2011, the second
consecutive year it did not meet Pentagon development goals for
the aircraft, which is now facing a third restructuring.
The F-35 programme has come under increased pressure in
recent weeks given the Pentagon's plan to postpone orders of 179
F-35 fighter planes for five years, as part of defence budget
cuts. The move will save $15.1 billion, but will likely drive up
the price per plane, according to Lockheed and U.S. officials.
Senior U.S. defence officials met late on Tuesday to review
a revised cost estimate and acquisition schedule for its biggest
weapons programme, but details and a final decision will not be
announced for several weeks, said spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin.
The Pentagon's high-level Defense Acquisition Board last met
on Jan. 17 to review the plane's development, production and
sustainment costs, concluding that it was showing "continued
progress", she said.
Last week, Italy's defence minister said his country will
cut its order for the F-35s by more than 30 percent as part of
Prime Minister Mario Monti's battle against state spending.
Canada will not spend more than it budgeted for the jets, a
federal minister said last week.