The US Department of State announced Saturday it has decided to approve a small modernization package for Turkey’s existing F-16 fleet.
The deal, valued at an estimated $259 million, is the first military equipment sale to Turkey in years and concerns avionics software upgrades.
The approval does not concern the $20 billion request from Turkey for new F-16s and nearly 80 upgrade kits.
Reuters reported Monday that the software upgrade deal “moves ahead…after leaders of US congressional committees gave informal approval.”
“Türkiye is a longstanding and valued NATO ally,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement. “The Biden Administration supports Türkiye’s efforts to bring the avionics of its F-16 fleet up to standard.”
The State Department notes that the proposed sale will not change the military balance of power in the wider region. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company will be the contractor supplying the upgrades.
Bigger request by Turkey on F-16s meets opposition in US Congress
The bigger request from Turkey for new F-16s and nearly 80 upgrade kits has raised objections in Congress, in view of Turkey’s acquisition of Russian missile systems and the use of the F-16s to repeatedly violate Greece’s air space and contest the sovereignty of parts of the Aegean Sea.
The powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez, has been particularly vocal in his objections.
Speaking to Mega TV, he said that the U.S. State Department should adopt a firmer stance toward Turkey instead of calling on both Greece and Turkey to tone down their rhetoric or find a peaceful way to resolve their differences, since only one side was being belligerent.
When asked what will happen with the sale of F-16s to Turkey, the U.S. senator replied:
I would aspire for Turkey to be different than it is under President Erdogan. For Turkey to be a reliable NATO ally, to follow international norms, to not be belligerent to its neighbors, to not arrest and imprison journalists and lawyers. To not suddenly declare one of your main political opponents guilty in order to disqualify them from standing in the elections.
“It is in that context that I have opposed the sale of the F-16s because the reality is that we have not seen a Turkey under Erdogan that lives up to those expectations,” he said.
Instead, he added, “what we have seen is a Turkey that threatens another NATO ally, the Hellenic Republic and threatens it without justification, without cause.”
So, he said, in his opinion, it would be “baffling” to sell military equipment to Turkey when it takes such actions and clearly demonstrates, again and again, some of its intentions.
If approved, the agreement with Turkey for the single-engine multirole fighter aircraft would consist of forty new F-16s as well as seventy-nine upgrade kits to help recondition the old ones, earning the administration twenty billion dollars in the deal.
Eight hundred bombs and nine hundred air-to-air missiles would also be part of the parcel.