On September 9, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that if the United States does not fulfill its promise to supply Turkey with F-16 fighter jets, Turkey may turn to other countries, such as Russia.
In a deal estimated at $6 billion, Turkey requested 40 F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modification kits in October 2021 to modernize its aging fleet.
Turkey, which has made it clear that it is firmly opposed to any restrictions on the sale of F-16s produced by Lockheed Martin, is currently facing a new hurdle due to a bill recently approved by US senators.
In July, U.S. lawmakers passed legislation banning the sale to Ankara unless the Biden administration says it is necessary for U.S. national security. It should also detail the steps taken to ensure they are not used for illegal overflights of Greece.
US President Joe Biden has said he will try to persuade lawmakers to deliver the F-16 fighters to the Turkish Air Force. In June, Erdogan recalled Biden telling him he would “provide all possible support regarding the F-16s.”
Erdogan expressed optimism that the United States would not “lead” Turkey down “different paths”, saying: “The United States is not the only one selling fighter jets in the world. The United Kingdom, France and Russia also sell it.
“It is possible to get them elsewhere, and others are sending us signals,” he told reporters on September 9. The Turkish leader commented ahead of a meeting with President Vladimir Putin due to take place at a regional summit in Uzbekistan next week. .
Erdogan criticized the West for orchestrating “provocations” against Russia and blamed Europe’s energy crisis on Western sanctions.
Robert Menendez, head of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says granting F-16 fighter jets to Turkey will not happen until Ankara changes its foreign policy and honors its commitment towards NATO by rejecting the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
The lawmaker also expressed concern over reports that Turkey was considering acquiring more S-400 missile defense systems from Russia, allegedly violating US sanctions. He urged Ankara to think twice about its ties with Moscow.
The process of finalizing the defense bill, known as the NDAA, is a long one, and the Senate will also have to back similar language before it can be presented to Biden’s office for signature. The current version of the bill will indeed be revised. However, the US President has the power to veto these laws.
Turkey was previously a partner in the F-35 development program. However, its participation in the program was suspended in 2019 due to Ankara’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defense system, and the country was eventually kicked out of the project.
In 2021, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the United States had advised Turkey to buy fourth-generation F-16 fighter jets rather than fifth-generation F-35s. The transfer of US arms to Turkey has also become problematic due to the acquisition of Russian-made S-400 defensive missile systems.
Reports that Greece is pressuring the United States to stop Washington from selling upgraded F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, citing its security concerns, exacerbate the problem.
Moreover, Ankara’s strategic ties with Washington have long been strained by issues such as Turkey’s dismal human rights record and US support for a Syrian Kurdish force that Erdogan considers ” terrorists”.
Charles Gramaglia, a US-based national security analyst and former commander of the US Navy, believes that “Erdogan intends to motivate the United States to follow through on the sale of the F-16.
The F-16 is a highly reliable and capable strike fighter capable of carrying precision air-to-ground weapons and the full range of air-to-air missiles. The Turkish Air Force has operated the F-16 for more than 30 years, and the Turkish aerospace industry has an equally long history of building and maintaining the aircraft.
He pointed out that one must consider the massive support system surrounding this aircraft in Turkish service, including maintenance, flight and ground crew training, etc.
“Searching for a new aircraft from a third country supplier will be extremely expensive, not so much for the cost of the aircraft, but to develop the support infrastructure that has been going on for decades,” he added. .
Which plane will Turkey buy?
If the United States does not approve the sale, Turkey could consider buying jets from France, the United Kingdom or Russia, as the Turkish president has suggested.
Therefore, the French-made Rafale fighter plane, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Russian-made Su-35, Su-57 or Checkmate will be the main competitors in this case.
Earlier it was reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may turn to France for Rafale fighter jets. Gramaglia believes France will be willing to sell Rafale fighters to Turkey, despite their differences.
He underlined: “France’s main strategic interest is in the Eastern Mediterranean. If Greece and Turkey are equally armed and capable, this should further stabilize the enduring military confrontation of these nations.
“Furthermore, the sale of French Rafales to Turkey would be a boon to the French aerospace industry and would have the added benefit of selling a long-time customer US aircraft after the US ‘stole’ the navy. Australia as a customer for new submarines,” he added.
Gramaglia explained that France has a long history of selling aircraft and their associated support systems to foreign countries. It is a feasible alternative for Turkey, and it is unquestionably better (although significantly more expensive) than the Russian-made Su-35.
Regarding the Eurofighter Typhoon, Istanbul-based defense enthusiast Seyyid Akr told the EurAsian Times that “the UK is a strategic partner in many areas with Turkey. The acquisition of Typhoon fighter aircraft seems the most likely of the three options you propose. I think this is also the most supported option by the Turks.
He explained that the Eurofighter Typhoons are capable aircraft and that the British are already involved in the development of the Turkish fighter jet project, the TFX, through BAE and Rolls Royce systems.
“If the F16 deal fails, Typhoons are the most likely next option, and it appears the British have repeatedly offered this option to Ankara officials,” he noted.
On the other hand, Gramaglia said he did not believe the UK would support a Eurofighter/Typhoon sale to Turkey.
“The United States and the United Kingdom have worked closely together on many programs, the most obvious being the F-35/Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. Selling to a long-term US customer could have unnecessary political repercussions. This is a viable option if, and only if, the United States has a policy of never selling to Turkey.
He added that “the only realistic Russian option is the Su-35 (a derivative of the Soviet Su-27 of the 1980s). The Su-57 Felon and Su-75/Checkmate will not be available in sufficient numbers for decades. Sukhoi cannot yet produce an adequate inventory of Su-57 Felons for the Russian Air Force, let alone the export market.
“I anticipate the Su-75 Checkmate will follow the path of the American F-20 Tigershark of the 1980s. The F-20 program was designed for the export market, but other nations had little interest in an aircraft that the country of origin (the United States) refused to buy for its air force. Despite some esteem for the F-20, it was a commercial failure. I expect the Su-75 program to fail in the same way,” Gramaglia added.
Returning to the Su-35, it did not show much promise in the battle against Ukraine. “Given the poor tactics of the Su-35, Russia’s poor logistics and human resources (air and ground crew training) for export customers make it a questionable option. But the Su- 35 is the best Russian option,” Gramaglia said.
Seyyid Akr highlighted the challenge of buying a Russian plane, saying, “I don’t see Turkey buying Russian-made planes as very plausible. There are obvious technical difficulties, such as the integration of NATO munitions with Russian-made aircraft. These could be overcome with locally produced pods, which is very technical.
“Then there are the obvious political limits to buying additional Russian equipment given CAATSA and NATO membership. It could be done but unlikely in my view,” he said. he noted.
Gramaglia concluded by saying, “Given that the United States recently approved the sale of an F-16 support package for Pakistan – with all of its myriad strategic challenges, including a nuclear arsenal – I expect what the United States finally approves the sale of new F-16s. plane to Turkey.