Security concerns raised over plans to service British fighter jets in Turkey

Caroline Mortimer
A F-35 fighter jet landing at RAF Fairford: PA

Security concerns have been raised after it emerged that British fighter jets are to be serviced in Turkey.

SNP MP George Kerevan questioned the wisdom of the policy in light of the fraught political situation in the country following last year’s attempted coup and tensions with Nato allies over the resulting political crackdown.

Major repairs to the engine RAF F-35 jets had previously been carried out in the UK, but the Ministry of Defence says these will now happened at a site in Turkey which has been selected to provide “deep maintenance”.

The base will repair the engines of all F-35 jets based in Europe while other repairs will be conducted at similar bases in Australia and North America.

The F-35 project, which started in 2006, is primarily funded by the US. It is part of an international programme to bring the jets into operation for a loose collection of nine Nato members and close US allies, including the UK, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands and Turkey.

Maintenance tasks will be shared between them.

The UK will be responsible for handling repairs to electronics and ejector seats at base in North Wales.

The Ministry said the decision to repair F-35s in Turkey was part of facilitating this global support network.

But Mr Kerevan said the UK should consider setting up back-up facilities if the situation in Turkey deteriorates.

"The UK should have options in the event of a diplomatic crisis with Turkey," he told the BBC. "I want to know what alternative arrangements are in place if it became impossible to have the the engines overhauled."

He said he would be writing to the Defence Select Committee to ask them to investigate.

Turkey has been moving closer to its former enemy Russia after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan felt betrayed by his Western allies respond to the coup.

The two countries nearly resorted to armed conflict after the Turkish air force shot down a Russian jet it said had violated its territory in 2015 but came together after the attempted coup last year when the West condemned Mr Erdogan’s brutal crackdown on dissent.

Mr Erdogan blamed a US-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, for orchestrating the plot and demanded his extradition.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has moved away from the West following the attempted coup (Reuters)

But Washington refused on the grounds no evidence for the claim had been presented against Mr Gulen who has denied any involvement in the plot.

Since the attempted coup, Mr Erdogan has fired hundreds of senior military staff serving Nato in Europe and the US.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: "F-35 is an international programme, with maintenance and repair hubs in Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific and a global support network that ensures security of supply for all involved.

"The UK, along with the other F-35 partner nations, benefit from this approach and the efficiencies it delivers."