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Turkey Eyes Russian Jets if US Turns Down F-16 Request

Russian SU-35 Jet
The US discourages Turkey and other NATO members from buying Russia’s military equipment, yet the Turkish President intends to purchase Russian jets next. Credit: Oleg Belyakov / Creative Commons

Turkey is still open to buying Russian jet aircraft if its request to the United States is denied, according to remarks made by the head of Turkey’s Defense Industry, Ismail Demir, on Monday.

“If the United States does not approve a deal on the F-16s after the situation with F-35 aircraft, Turkey won’t be left without alternatives,” Demir declared. “The issue of Su-35 and Su-57 planes may surface again at any time,” he reportedly said to the Turkish TV network NTV.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on October 17 that the US might sell F-16 fighters to Turkey. That is, even after its 2019 decision to exclude Ankara from the program of developing the F-35 fifth-generation fighter.

Reuters reported the same day that Turkey had made a request to the US to purchase 40 F-16 fighter jets. It also asked to modernize about 80 warplanes of this type that are currently operational in the Turkish Air Force.

Turkey buys Russian missiles against Washington’s wishes

Washington excluded Ankara from NATO’s F-35 stealth fighter jet program in 2019 after Turkey purchased Russian S-400 defense air systems in defiance of warnings from NATO.

But president Erdoğan on Sunday said that Turkey was in talks with the United States to buy F-16 fighters.

Moscow and Ankara inked a deal in 2017 on the delivery of Russian-made S-400 air defense systems to Turkey. Turkey was the first NATO member to purchase this air defense weapon from Russia. It is not compatible with NATO weapons systems.

Ankara’s decision to purchase the Russian-made system infuriated the US and NATO. So far, Washington has not abandoned its efforts to make Turkey give up the Russian air defense system.

Turkey is now seeking compensation for its ouster from the US-led program. That includes a $1.4 billion payment Turkey claims it had made before its removal.

“F-16 jets linked to F-35 debacle”

Turkey’s purchase of F-16 jets from America is “of course linked to the F-35s issue.” That’s what Erdoğan told reporters at an İstanbul airport before embarking on an tour in Africa. He said the US had offered Turkey in return to sell F-16s to upgrade its Air Force fleet.

“We have said we’ll take whatever step is needed to meet our country’s defense needs,” Erdoğan said. He added that Turkey was working on modernizing its air combat capabilities, considering its options.

Any such sale by the US, however, would need to be approved by Congress. In the past couple of years, both Houses of Congress have expressed negative sentiments, and legislated against, Erdoğan’s policies.

Last month, Erdoğan said Turkey still planned to buy a second batch of S-400 missile defense systems from Russia. The US warned Turkey of further risks to bilateral ties if it indeed bought more weapons from Russia.

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