Ankara wants to modernize its air force with American jets

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ANKARA: Amid ongoing talks to improve ties with President Joe Biden’s administration, Turkey has reportedly made a surprise request to the United States to purchase 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets and 80 retrofit kits for its existing combat aircraft.

The request is subject to approval by the US State Department and then the US Congress, where Ankara will require additional lobbying efforts.

Washington, DC-based law firm Arnold & Porter recently extended its $ 1.5 million lobbying contract with Turkey by one year for “strategic and legal advisory services” regarding its participation in the F-35 combat aircraft program.

Turkey’s withdrawal from the F-35 program in 2019, after purchasing a Russian S-400 missile defense system, cost Ankara around $ 1.4 billion, as it had already ordered more than 100 planes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on September 29 and said Turkey will continue with its plan to purchase a second batch of S-400s, despite US sanctions in December 2020, when the United States United has blacklisted Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate. , its manager and three employees.

Ankara is reportedly considering new avenues of defense cooperation with Russia, including joint production of aircraft engines and warplanes.

Sine Ozkarasahin, security and defense program analyst for Istanbul-based think-tank EDAM, believes that after losing the F-35s and being exposed to US sanctions under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions on his industry armament, this last request is surely an issue to a certain extent.

“At present, Turkey does not have fifth generation aircraft which are essential to maintain the military advantage over Turkey’s geopolitical competitors. At present, the Turkish Air Force has no other viable workaround, ”Ozkarasahin told Arab News.

“With its current technological know-how and knowledge of CONOPS, known as the concept of operations, (the) F-16 Viper modernization package is a much better choice than the Russian alternative, (the) Su35 . A switch to Su35s as a stopgap would also require a significant change in training, infrastructure and even military doctrine, as the design philosophy of Russian aircraft differs drastically from that of Western tactical aviation.

Turkey’s combat aircraft fleet consists primarily of American-made fourth-generation F-16 Fighting Falcons and older F-4 Phantom IIs.

In February, Turkey’s procurement and defense authorities launched a new program to increase the structural life of the country’s current F-16 Block 30 fleet from 8,000 flight hours to 12,000.

The upgrade program was seen by experts as a sign that Turkey wants to keep the F-16s as its main fleet until its planned native fighter jet becomes operational.

According to Ozkarasahin, the Turkish national fighter jet is only expected to enter service in the 2030s, while the first baseline variants are unlikely to be entirely fifth-generation aircraft – factors that would cause a significant gap in Turkey’s air warfare capabilities.

“To catch up with contemporary trends in air warfare, Turkey urgently needs an interim solution and then a workable plan to acquire fifth generation capabilities. Buying F-16 can do the job at least for the first lens, ”she said.

Ozkarasahin believes Washington can use demand as a tool for political negotiation against Turkey.

“However, with the help of defense industry giants like Lockheed Martin, Turkey can receive conditional approval from Congress. Since Republicans and Democrats share (a) a tough stance on Turkey, diplomatic talent will be a game-changer, ”she said.

If Turkey opts for Russian Su-35 fighter jets for the interim period until it deploys a fifth-generation fighter, it would undermine its relationship with the Biden administration and risk further US sanctions, experts note .

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, believes Turkey’s latest move to ask Washington for F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits is also intended to test America’s sincerity and friendship. .

“It may also be a way of asking US policymakers that, although Washington has withdrawn Turkey from the F-35 fighter program for its S-400 purchase, what about its F-16 policy? The real question is whether or not bilateral relations will resume, ”he told Arab News.

“Despite recent problems in Turkish-US relations, there are still few among Turkish policymakers and (the) military elite who do not want to abandon what remains of US-Turkish military relations. So they’re trying to add a new layer to that relationship by trying to create new bonds, new bridges in this way, ”Cagaptay added.

Biden and Erdogan are expected to meet in Rome at the end of October.

On September 23, in an interview with Turkish journalists in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Erdogan said Washington should either deliver F-35s to Turkey or reimburse them.


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