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.
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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.
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“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.
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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.