Türkiye advances F-16 fighter jet procurement from US

NATO, Türkiye, F-16, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Erdoğan

On June 13, Türkiye has confirmed the signing of a contract for the procurement of F-16 fighter jets from the United States. This development, announced by the Turkish Defense Ministry, marks a critical step forward in a prolonged negotiation process that has occasionally strained the ties between the two NATO allies.

The Turkish Defense Ministry’s announcement followed closely on the heels of a statement by the US State Department, which confirmed that Türkiye had signed a letter of offer and acceptance for the purchase of the Lockheed Martin-made warplanes. This milestone brings both nations closer to concluding a deal that is expected to significantly bolster Türkiye’s air combat capabilities.

“The contract has been signed, and delegations from both sides are negotiating the details,” said sources from the Turkish Defense Ministry. “The details will be shared with the public later after the decisions to be made on them have been taken.”

Türkiye’s request, originally submitted in October 2021, involves the acquisition of 40 new F-16 aircraft and 79 modernization kits aimed at upgrading the jets in its existing fleet. The entire deal is estimated to be worth around US$23 billion. This procurement is part of Türkiye’s broader strategy to replace its aging fleet of F-16s, which will begin to be phased out starting in the 2030s.

The Biden administration formally notified Congress of its intent to proceed with the sale in January, a decision that came shortly after Türkiye ratified Sweden’s NATO membership. This ratification was seen as a significant gesture towards enhancing NATO unity and cooperation, possibly smoothing the way for the F-16 deal.

The State Department has hailed this development as “a major step forward” in Türkiye’s acquisition of the new jets, emphasizing that these are the “most advanced F-16 ever made available only to closest Allies and partners.” The department underscored this as an example of the enduring commitment of the US to its security partnership with Türkiye.

Jeffrey Flake, the US ambassador to Ankara, echoed this sentiment, highlighting the deal’s significance for both US and Turkish national security and NATO interoperability. “The sale shows growing trust between the sides,” Flake noted, reinforcing the strategic importance of this transaction.

Türkiye’s journey towards acquiring advanced fighter jets has been marked by significant challenges. Initially, Türkiye sought to purchase Lockheed Martin’s more advanced F-35 fighter jets. However, in 2019, the US removed Türkiye from the multinational F-35 program. This decision was made following Türkiye’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 air missile defense systems, which Washington argued posed a security risk to the F-35 technology.

Ankara, on the other hand, maintained that the S-400 systems would not be integrated into NATO’s defense architecture, hence posing no threat. Despite these assurances, the US proceeded with Türkiye’s exclusion from the F-35 program. Türkiye had originally ordered approximately 100 F-35s and was involved in manufacturing around 900 parts for the aircraft.

With the exclusion from the F-35 program, Türkiye shifted its focus to upgrading its existing fleet of F-16s. The country is one of the largest operators of these jets, with a fleet comprising over 200 older models. The procurement of new F-16s and modernization kits is a crucial part of Türkiye’s efforts to maintain a formidable air force.

Additionally, Türkiye is developing its own fifth-generation national combat aircraft, named Kaan, which successfully completed its maiden flight in February. This indigenous development is part of Türkiye’s long-term strategy to enhance its defense capabilities and reduce reliance on foreign technology.

The upcoming NATO leaders’ summit in Washington presents another pivotal moment for US-Türkiye relations. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to attend the summit, which may offer an opportunity for a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden. A previous meeting planned at the White House last month was postponed due to scheduling conflicts, but there is a mutual desire for a face-to-face discussion.

Jeffrey Flake, who is set to leave his post as US ambassador to Ankara this autumn, expressed optimism about the potential meeting, suggesting it could further reinforce the growing trust and cooperation between the two nations.

The signing of the F-16 procurement contract marks a significant step in US-Türkiye defense relations, reflecting a renewed commitment to mutual security and strategic collaboration. As details of the contract are finalized and shared, this deal is poised to enhance Türkiye’s air force capabilities and strengthen NATO’s collective defense posture. The upcoming NATO summit may further solidify the burgeoning ties between Washington and Ankara, setting the stage for continued partnership and cooperation.

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