Turkey may abandon F-16s request, deeming them noncompetitive

ANKARA, TURKEY — Turkey remains at a crossroads over the future of its air force. After being kicked out of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program, Ankara’s hopes turned to develop its own fifth-generation fighter. At the same time, Turkey needs new fighters and the F-16 Block 70/72 was the most feasible option.

F-16 Block 30 upgrades with new Turkish MGB mission computer
Photo credit: Turkish Air Force

However, the US Congress is currently delaying the authorization to sell F-16s to Turkey. The same is happening with the possibility of upgrading the capabilities of the existing Turkish F-16 fleet. And if Turkey can upgrade its aircraft with local solutions, the delivery of new ones is an obstacle.

It is not the first time comments have come from Turkey that the country may look for other suppliers. In recent months, such assumptions have been voiced by senior Turkish politicians, including the defense minister, the minister of foreign policy, and the president of the Turkish defense industry.

Mr. Çagri Erhan, a member of the Presidential Commission on Security and Foreign Policy in Turkey gave an interview with Russian media. According to the Turkish politician, the decision to send a request to Washington to acquire the F-16 of the latest configuration was a mistake. Especially in the current situation.

What does Mr. Erhan mean? The earthquake in Turkey [as well as in Syria], which took the lives of tens of thousands of Turkish residents, changed the circumstances. Even if the US were to allow the acquisition of the F-16, spending $20 billion in this environment would be absurd. “I believe that after the earthquakes, Turkey will give up its demand for F-16 because the price is 20 billion dollars. The request for F-16s was a mistake because these fighter jets are “obsolete and noncompetitive,” the Turkish politician told the Russian press.

F-35 will carry solid rocket-ramjet AARGM-ER: INS/GPS, 250km range
Photo credit: USAF

According to Mr. Erhan, Ankara should immediately change its decision to acquire the F-16. He reminded Russian journalists that there are Chinese, Russian, and European aircraft on the market that would be of interest to Ankara.

Our sources say that the Turkish security expert’s words are causing astonishment among the Turkish public. The Turkish online portal SavunmaSanayiST.com writes the same in its journalistic material today. The Turkish media recalls that the talks between Ankara and Washington about the possible acquisition of new F-16s started as early as 2021. However, the first meeting between delegations of the two countries was held only in the middle of last year.

Mr. Erhan commented that there was still a chance for Turkey to be returned to the F-35 program. This comment is completely consistent with our analysis earlier this year. In January, we analyzed the Turkish air defense and saw the great potential of the long-range anti-aircraft missile system Siper.

Although its characteristics are different from the S-400 that Turkey has acquired, for the time being, it can meet Ankara’s anti-aircraft defense needs. In the future, this system is expected to undergo several upgrades, which will not only increase the distance for radar detection but also the distance for missile interception of an enemy air object.

Russia expects its first Su-35SM with radio-absorbing coating
Photo credit: rg.ru

It is here that we, and some Turkish colleagues, see a chance to bring the F-35 back to the negotiating table with Turkey. The improved capabilities of Siper will be the basis for Turkey to withdraw the S-400 from operational readiness, which is one of Washington’s conditions. However, this is the action of one side. Even if Turkey fulfills this condition, there is no guarantee that the US will agree to talk with Turkey about its return to the F-35 program.

Ankara and Washington do not have this smooth relationship as years ago. In recent months, meetings have been held between the delegations of the two countries, but there is still no information as to whether “the edges have been built”. Certainly, the delivery of F-16s to Turkey could prove to be a cornerstone in whether relations improve or deteriorate.

But Ankara is looking not only for American solutions for its defense but also for other possibilities. The same can be said in other spheres of international politics. Here, for example, for years the ice between Syria and Turkey can be melted because of the earthquake that shook the two countries.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Photo credit: Adem Altan—AFP/Getty Images

For example, in Turkey, there is talk of a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad. Mr. Erhan says such a meeting is within the realm of possibility, but it will not happen before Turkey’s presidential election, which is about two and a half months away.

“President Erdogan is generally not opposed to such a meeting, but the devastating earthquakes changed everything,” Erhan said, stressing that the leader now spends three days a week in the disaster zone.


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