The US administration is reportedly considering selling F-16 jets to Turkey and fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters to Greece, a plan that has alarmed Ankara.
In an attempt to keep both NATO allies happy and maintain a balance of power in the Aegean, US media say that the Biden administration is intensifying its pressure on Congress to approve the strategy.
According to the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story last week, the administration hopes that by getting the Turkish F-16 deal approved by Congress, Ankara will drop its objections to the accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO.
Turkey first requested to purchase forty brand new F-16 Block, seventy jets, and seventy-nine modernization kits for its older F-16s in October 2021 in a deal valued at $20 billion.
It opted for more F-16s since it had been removed from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program in 2019 and barred from buying any of the jets after it received S-400 air defense missile systems that it had bought from Russia. Ankara had plans to buy up to a hundred F-35s for its air force.
In recent years, Greece has asked to buy F-35s. Speaking to reporters in Madrid during a NATO summit in July 2022, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greece intended to buy a squadron of the Lockheed Martin-made F-35s, with a possible option for a second squadron.
“Part of this procedure is the sending of the Letter of Request, which has occurred in recent days,” Mitsotakis said, stressing this was the start of a lengthy process. Athens estimated it would not receive delivery of the aircraft before 2027 or 2028.
Washington will most likely authorize any request Athens makes for these advanced aircraft. The same cannot, however, be said about the Turkish F-16 request, Forbes notes.
President Joe Biden has long favored selling Turkey new F-16s and has repeatedly expressed optimism he can win approval from Congress. At the same NATO summit in Madrid, he said that an F-16 sale would not be a “quid pro quo” for Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession, which requires unanimous agreement among all alliance member states.
Following the publication of the WSJ report, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, issued a statement welcoming a Greek F-35 deal but “strongly” opposing the sale of any “new F-16 aircraft to Turkey.”
“As I have repeatedly made clear, I strongly oppose the Biden administration’s proposed sale of new F-16 aircraft to Turkey,” Menendez said in an official statement.
Acquisition of F-35s by Greece alarms Turkey
A Greek acquisition of F-35s—coupled with the ongoing procurement of two dozen 4.5-generation Dassault Rafale F3R fighters from France and the upgrade of the bulk of its F-16 fleet to the most advanced Block 72 configuration—will give the Hellenic Air Force a technological edge over its much larger Turkish counterpart.
That will remain the case even if Turkey secures this F-16 deal, Forbes opines.
On Monday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that if Congress does not object to the demand of U.S. President Joe Biden, the process will finalize, noting that there is a fifty-one percent possibility that Congress will reject the President’s request.
If so, the President can resend his request, and, in that case, the request could only be rejected by a two-thirds majority, he added.
He also underscored that Turkey does not want the procurement of F-16s under conditions. “If [the U.S. administration] stands firm, there will be no problem,” Cavusoglu said. “We do not want to buy equipment from a country that ties our hands conditionally.”
Meanwhile, the minister criticized the U.S. for destroying its years-long policy of maintaining a balance between Türkiye and Greece, including the island nation of Cyprus.
Cavusoglu cited the news reports about the U.S. selling F-35 fighter jets to Greece, and said, according to Hurriyet:
“The balance in the relations between Türkiye and Greece began to deteriorate. The U.S. had a policy of balance. The balance between the Turkish and Greek parts of Cyprus began to deteriorate. An ally, such as the U.S., needs to be careful.”