Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that the United States had offered to sell F-16 fighter jets to his country as a return for its investment in the F-35 program.
The Turkish presidential spokesperson said this week that Ankara would look at adding more F-16s to its air fleet in place of more advanced F-35s after it was removed from the joint strike fighter program.
“We are talking $1.4 billion spent on F-35s. As a return for this investment, the US approached us with this offer. We told them we will do everything to meet our country’s defense needs,” Erdogan told reporters.
Turkey caused a rift with its NATO partner after it bought S-400 air defense systems from Russia. The United States canceled the sale of F-35 jets to Turkey in 2019 over claims that it could leak military secrets to Russia. Turkey continues to make parts for F-35s.
Earlier, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalyn said that Ankara is contemplating the possibility of expanding its fleet and upgrading existing F-16 jets as an alternative to acquiring the F-35s.
“Our first choice is to buy the F-35, and this is our right. If the crisis with the United States is overcome, Turkey will re-enter the program and we will receive our F-35s. If the problem is not solved, we will continue to search for alternatives. The expansion of the existing fleet of F-16s and their modernization can be considered an alternative. Depending on the conditions, a final decision will be made based on our needs,” Kalyn said in an interview with Milliyet newspaper.
He added that Turkey’s exclusion from the F-35 program is “completely illegal and unfair,” noting that Turkey had already paid the United States $1.4 billion for participation in the program.
Earlier, as EurAsian Times reported, Turkey requested the US for purchasing 40 F-16 fighter jets along with 80 upgrade kits for its existing aircraft.
The deal requires 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.
There is bipartisan support in the US Congress to compel the Biden administration to further pressure Ankara over its purchase of the S-400 and its poor human rights record. Turkey, on the other hand, has said that it hopes for improved ties under US President Joe Biden, Reuters reported.