Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile defence system in 2017 contradicted relations with the USA, removing Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program. However, Turkey’s backing for Ukraine, most notably through the supply of armed UAVs and diplomacy efforts with Russia, has provided Ankara with an opportunity to improve its image in Congress. The publication considers that there is an opportunity for Turkey to acquire 40 Lockheed Martin Block 70 F-16 fighter jets and approximately 80 modernisation kits to modernise its existing fleet with a price tag of $6 billion.
Several senior congressmen who were influential in removing Turkey from the F-35 program have tentatively indicated to Defence News that they may be willing to allow Ankara to purchase F-16s after the Biden administration argued that such a deal might serve NATO and U.S. security objectives.
Nonetheless, Congress has significant veto power over potential arms sales, and lawmakers made it clear that an F-16 transfer would be contingent on Turkey continuing to support Ukraine even as it tries to strike a delicate balance in its relations with both the U.S. and Russia amid a slew of other regional disputes.
“We need to talk and work with Turkey and others that are working with us against Russia,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., told Defence News. “They’ve shown some movements in the right direction. There are other things that we still need to work with Turkey, certain things that still irritate us at times.”
“I’ve talked to several of the parties involved in this,” Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told Defence News. “The Turks have made a credible argument for why they should get the F-16s.”
The purchase of the S-400 prompted the U.S. to blacklist Turkey’s military procurement agency in 2020, as required by a Russia sanctions law CAATSA.
However, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sought a détente with Turkey’s NATO partners in recent years.
According to Reuters, the State Department wrote to Congress last month, stating that “there are compelling, long-term NATO alliance unity and capability interests and U.S. national security, economic, and commercial interests supported by appropriate U.S. defence trade ties with Turkey.”
The letter was written in response to a request by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, and a bipartisan group of more than 50 other House members who encouraged Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to reject the F-16 sale to Turkey.
“At some point, we have to decide is Turkey the type of NATO ally that we expect or not,” Menendez told Defence News. “It acts in ways that are contrary to our interests in a whole host of things. I think the administration has to stop seeing from the aspirational part of what we would like Turkey to be and realise that Turkey is under Erdoğan.”