Turkey, which was removed from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, is still looking to modernize its air force and instead of 5th-gen stealth jets, wants to reportedly acquire F-16 fighter jets from the US. It is not clear which variant Ankara is eyeing though.
The US had been strongly against any of the NATO members purchasing the Russian S-400 missile defense system. The country believed that Russia could obtain classified information about the highly advanced F-35 fighter jets through this missile defense system.
Nevertheless, Turkey, a NATO ally, had purchased the S-400 in 2019 insisting that it would not be integrated into the NATO systems. However, Washington did not buy this argument and canceled the sale of the fifth-generation stealth fighters to Anakara.
This was made official in April this year after the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Turkey in 2007 was canceled and the country was not included in the new agreement.
Turkey had initially pledged to buy 100 F-35 jets and was allocated six jets in 2018. However, this delivery was postponed and later canceled after the US-Turkey relations got bitter following the S-400 issue.
The planes intended for Turkey were then offered to the US Air Force after the US Department of Defense announced the contract for acquiring eight F-35 jets for the US Air Force.
In September this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country is seeking compensation following its removal from the program.
“We made a $1.4 billion payment, what will become of that?” Erdogan was quoted as saying. “We did not – and do not – earn this money easily. Either they will give us our planes or they will give us the money”.
Erdogan also made it clear that there will be no “turning back” from the deal with Russia for acquiring the S-400 advanced missile defense systems. He also indicated that Turkey still plans to acquire a second batch of the S-400 missile defense system.
This development made the chances of reconciliation between the US and Turkey very dim. Ankara’s purchase of S-400 also triggered US sanctions. In 2020, Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate, its chief, Ismail Demir, and three other employees were blacklisted by Washington.
Turkey’s Plans to Acquire F-16s
As part of its air force modernization plans, Turkey has put forth a request to the US for purchasing 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets along with 80 upgrade kits for its existing F-16 jets, Reuters reported. The billion-dollar deal is still stuck in the Foreign Military Sales process.
The deal needs to be approved by both the US State Department and Congress. “As a matter of policy, the Department does not confirm or comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress”, a spokesperson for the State Department was quoted as saying in media reports.
The decade-old partnership between the US and Turkey has gone through many ups and downs in the past few years over issues such as disagreements over the Syria Policy, Ankara’s close relations with Moscow, and Turkey’s problematic freedom and human rights record.
The request for new F-16s made by Turkey is highly unlikely to be accepted by the US Congress keeping in mind the tense rift between the countries following the S-400 crisis.
Why Turkey Needs New Jets
As reported by The EurAsian Times earlier, Turkey is looking for advanced fighters to replace its aging F-16 fleet. Another factor is that Ankara’s rivals are bolstering their aerial capabilities rapidly.
The US is currently upgrading most of Greece’s F-16s to the Viper configuration, which will make them the most advanced F-16s in Europe.
Additionally, Athens has ordered a small fleet of 4.5-generation French-built Rafale fighters. Egypt has also acquired Rafales and has reportedly begun taking delivery of 4.5-generation Su-35s from Russia.
Ankara-based BlueMelange, an independent research group, was recently quoted by Forbes as saying there are around 236 Turkish F-16s, consisting of Block 30, Block 40, Block 50, and Block 50+ variants, with descending combat-readiness due to their age and extreme combat-loaded sortie-flight records.
And it’s possible that Turkey is now looking for the latest F-16 Block 70. This variant combines capability upgrades, most notably the advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar with a new avionics architecture, and structural upgrades to extend the structural life of the aircraft by more than 50 percent beyond that of previous production F-16 aircraft, according to Lockheed Martin.