Several reports have touched upon US discussions with Turkey to provide it with more F-16 aircraft, and to modernize its old models, after Washington excluded Ankara from the F-35 project. It canceled its acquisition of 100 of them due to its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system two years ago.
The new aircraft deal collides with Turkey’s announcement of plans to obtain a second batch of the Russian missile defense system, which led to a new warning from the United States about the dangers of a deterioration in bilateral relations, especially since any arms deals require the approval of Congress, within which criticism of the Turkish side is increasing.
Scenarios and Suggestions
Turkey participated in the program to produce the American F-35 fighter when it was launched, and it was supposed to get about 100 of them, but Washington excluded it from the program in 2019 after it obtained the Russian S-400 air defense system.
Ankara spent $1.4 billion on initial production programs, and many of the planes had already been produced at the time Turkey was kicked out of the program.
Over the past year, the US Air Force purchased 8 of these aircraft from Lockheed Martin, but the Turkish government has not yet received the money.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters a few days ago that Washington had proposed selling the “F-16” as a way to compensate Ankara for what it had already spent to produce the F-35 fighter jets.
He pointed out that his country is holding talks in this regard, and that Washington offered the new deal to modernize Turkey’s air fleet.
In an interview with Al Jazeera Net, Howard Eisenstadt, an expert on Turkish affairs in the Middle East Democracy Project, questioned Washington’s offer to compensate Turkey for $1.4 billion and replace the F-16s with F-35s.
Talks and plans
In an interview with Al Jazeera Net, Tol Gonul, director of the Turkish Studies Program at the Middle East Institute in Washington, considered that the Turkish F-16 fleet is old, and that Turkey wanted to replace it and buy F-35 planes, and after the failure of the F-35 deal, Turkey needed new F-16 planes. to modernize its air force.
Perhaps the State Department or the Pentagon encouraged Turkey to order more of the F-16, because modernizing the military capabilities of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member state is also an American interest, as Gonul put it.
Following his visit to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly before the end of last month, Erdogan expressed his anger at US President Joe Biden.
He noted that Washington cannot be trusted to provide the equipment needed to modernize and maintain Turkish F-16s.
Erdogan then headed to Russia, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and it was agreed to deepen defense cooperation to include work on combat engines, submarines and missile engines.
Erdogan also indicated that Ankara might in fact be pushed to acquire a second regiment of the S-400 missile system.
Turkey has expressed its desire to buy the latest generation of Russian fighters if an agreement is not reached with Washington, according to the head of Turkish Defense Industries Ismail Demir a few days ago.
Demir said that if Turkey could not reach an agreement with Washington on the F-16 deal, it was still ready to consider purchasing Sukhoi Su-35 fighters and “S. Yu-57” (SU-57) from Russia.
The Turkish military does not prefer to resort to Russian fighters because it will not fit the culture of the Western Turkish Air Force. On the other hand, the process of introducing Russian fighters to the Turkish army will take a long time, and it will affect Turkey’s relations with Washington and NATO.
For its part, Congress made it clear that future arms exports to Turkey depend on resolving the issue of the Russian S-400 system.
Biden administration, since taking office, has shown respect for the will of Congress on this matter. Washington believes that Turkish officials should seriously seek a compromise on the S-400 missile system.
Hence, Turkey’s purchase of American weapons is no longer as easy as it was before, especially given that it is a member state of NATO.
Congress adopted the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, known as CAATSA.
This legislation imposed sanctions on Russia, but also threatened to impose sanctions on countries that buy weapons produced by Russian state-owned companies.
Then, during the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Bill, Congress toughened the language on sanctions, and the resolution stated that lifting sanctions or re-granting Turkey F-35 fighters could not take place unless “Ankara is no longer interested in acquiring the S-400s and provides credible assurances.” She won’t buy any more.
At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last July, US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said President Biden was committed to maintaining sanctions against Turkey if it continued to possess Russian S-400 missiles.
Howard Eisenstadt, an expert on Turkey affairs with the Project on Middle East Democracy, questioned Congress’ approval of any new arms deals for Turkey in the current circumstances.
Obstacles and Problems
Turkey has at least 270 F-16s that have been the backbone of the Turkish Air Force since it began acquiring them in the 1980s and 1990s.
These aircraft have been used extensively and extensively to conduct border patrols since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, as well as during missions targeting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) since 2015, and in support of Turkish operations in the Syrian Idlib region in 2020.
Most of the Turkish forces’ aircraft had become obsolete, and Ankara had planned to replace most of its aging fleet with 100 advanced F-35s.
In the absence of a compromise on the use of the S-400 program, Ankara will face a crisis in the absence of modern fighters to replace the fleet of aging F-16s.
Turkey has made it clear that it intends to develop its own fighter, dubbed TF/X, but the project has been plagued by problems with the procurement of engines, and at best, large-scale production won’t start until the middle of the next decade.
There has been speculation in Washington about Turkey’s willingness to allow some form of US monitoring of the S-400 missile system, or limit its use in one way or another, as a compromise to return to the F-35 path.
In her interview with Al Jazeera Net, Tol Gonul considered that “the US administration tells the Turkish side that it is open to dialogue about the F-35 fighters, but without Turkey finding a solution regarding the Russian missiles, I do not think that the status quo can be changed.”
Expert Gonul doubts that “Congress will approve Turkey’s request for the F-16, especially with Erdogan saying he is interested in buying a second batch of S-400s, and Erdogan’s recent statements will only deepen the dispute.”
Gonul noted that President Erdoğan is facing increasing challenges at home, “Poll numbers indicate a decline in his popularity, the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the depth of the country’s economic problems, and anti-refugee sentiment is growing, which deals another blow to the ruling coalition that controls it. Erdogan.
He added that at the same time, the Turkish opposition parties are trying to gather their ranks. These factors make Erdogan more vulnerable than ever, and buying a second batch of S-400s is not the wisest move at this time, as it will certainly lead to more US sanctions and increase Erdogan’s troubles, she says.
During the press conference on Monday of the US State Department, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “The United States has not made any funding offers regarding Turkey’s requests for F-16s, and refused to confirm what the Turkish president mentioned about Washington’s invitation to buy F-16 fighters. Price said only that the Pentagon is currently leading discussions to resolve disputes with Turkey over the F-35 issue.