Turkey can have its F-16 fighter jets modernized or buy new F-16s instead of the $1.4 billion Ankara paid for the F-35 program from the US, or look for alternatives in the world market, Turkey’s presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said in an interview with the Milliyet newspaper.
Kalın dismissed criticism of the F-16s being outdated, saying the jets are currently the backbone of Turkey and NATO’s air power.
“They will continue to perform this function for a while,” Kalın was quoted by Milliyet as saying.
Ankara had ordered more than 100 F-35 fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin but was removed from the program in 2019 after it acquired a Russian S-400 missile defense system.
The decades-old partnership between NATO allies the US and Turkey has gone through unprecedented turmoil in the past five years over disagreements on Syria policy, Ankara’s closer ties with Moscow, its naval ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean, US charges against a state-owned Turkish bank and erosion of rights and freedoms in Turkey.
According to a recent Reuters report, citing sources familiar with the matter, Turkey has made a request to the US to buy 40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.
The deal, worth billions, is still working its way through the Foreign Military Sales process, which is subject to approval by the US State Department as well as the US Congress, which can block deals.
“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,” Reuters quoted a spokesperson for the State Department as saying.
According to Reuters, the request for the jets will likely have a difficult time getting approval from Congress, where sentiment towards Turkey has soured deeply over recent years, primarily due to Ankara’s purchase of the S-400s and its problematic human rights track record.
Ankara’s purchase of the S-400s also triggered US sanctions. In December 2020 Washington blacklisted Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate, its chief, Ismail Demir, and three other employees.
Since then the US has repeatedly warned Turkey against buying further Russian weaponry. But last week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan indicated Ankara still intended to buy a second batch of S-400s from Russia, a move that could deepen the rift with Washington.
There is bipartisan support in the US Congress to push the Biden administration to put further pressure on Ankara, primarily over its purchase of Russian weapons and its human rights track record.