Erdogan affirms Washington offered F-16 fighters to Turkey
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated that the United States government offered to sell F-16 fighter jets. The project would come as an alternative to the F-35 program, from which Turkey was excluded.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in charge of approving Foreign Military Sales did not communicate on the matter. Such a procurement would also need to receive approval from the US Congress.
In early October 2021, reports emerged that Turkey had sent a formal request to acquire 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets as well as 80 kits to upgrade those already operated by its air force. The Turkish Air Force currently operates around 200 F-16s.
The initial plan was to retire the F-16s by 2035. However, the modernization of the Turkish Air Force fighter fleet has been put on hold since Ankara’s participation in the Joint Strike Fighter program was canceled on July 18, 2019, scrapping an order for over 100 F-35 stealth fighter jets.
Tension has arisen between the United States and Turkey as the latter chose to procure Russian-made S-400 missile systems. In December 2020, the US State Department announced a series of sanctions against Turkey's Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) in charge of arms contracts.
According to Erdogan, the F-16 acquisition would come as part of compensation for the $1.4 billion Turkey invested in the F-35. However, the recent announcement by the Turkish president that another batch of S-400 platforms to equip a second regiment would be acquired could rekindle the dispute.
Turkey has also made attempts to develop its own alternative to the F-35. During the 2019 edition of the Paris Air Show, the state-owned manufacturer Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) unveiled the TF-X, an indigenous fifth-generation fighter jet set to replace the F-16. The maiden flight of the first prototype is planned for 2023, with a service entry scheduled around 2025-2026. Several critical parts and technical assistance are to be supplied by Russia.
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