Will Turkey buy American F-16?

Will Turkey buy American F-16?

Turkey’s request from the United States for 40 F-16 fighter jets and 80 modernization kits for its existing aircraft caught many by surprise last week, coming amid a lingering crisis between the two NATO allies over Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems and its apparent intention to advance military cooperation with Russia. 

As Al-Monitor writes, news of the requested purchase, estimated at some $7 billion, broke days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Sochi on Sept 29. 

Security analysts point out that Turkey’s aerial warfare capacity faces a major techno-generational challenge in the next decade or two. Neither Turkey’s TF-X indigenous jet project nor its locally made armed drones, which have attracted much international attention recently, are likely to close that techno-generational gap by the 2030s. 

But can Turkey overcome political hurdles? Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the jets, is a very powerful actor in the US defense industry and might lobby on Ankara’s behalf. To get around US sanctions against the Defense Industries Presidency, Turkey’s main procurement agency, Ankara could use the Defense Ministry to lead the request.

Yet, anti-Turkey sentiment is rife on both sides of the aisle in the US Congress. Turkey tested its S-400s on F-16 jets during trials in November 2019, activating the radars of the Russian-made systems. The use of F-16s in such tests only aggravated congressional opposition to a large military sale to Turkey.

Sources in Ankara told Al-Monitor that the Turkish government sees the request as one last test of confidence with the Joe Biden administration, stressing that the administration could convince Congress to approve the sale. The request is seen as a sort of a junction, with Ankara bracing for a new strategy, depending on Washington’s response.

Consequently, could Ankara turn to Moscow for a fifth-generation warplane such as the Sukhoi Su-35 should the United States turn down its request? Many in Turkey now wonder whether Ankara made the F-16 request only to have it rejected, in a calculated move to lay the ground for warplane negotiations with Russia. Buying Russian warplanes would be a very costly option for Turkey, as it would require a thorough revision of its existing weapons, logistics and training systems. The Su-35 jet, for instance, would require radical changes in training programs, simulators, other infrastructure, the pilot pool and even doctrine. Moreover, such a move would almost certainly trigger harsher US sanctions against Turkey.

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