Türkiye's optimism rose as the US drops conditions for F-16 sales out of 2023 budget
    The much-awaited deal is on the horizon

    ANALYTICS  09 December 2022 - 16:12

    Fuad Shahbazov

    On December 7, 2022, the US approved the new defence budget for 2023, which surprisingly excludes conditions on the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, saying the swift finalization of the sale would be “in everyone’s interest.” The newly minted 2023 National Defense Authorization Act has already been approved by the House of Representatives on December 8. The next rounds are adoption by the Senate, after which it will be put on President Joe Biden’s table for final approval.

    Ankara has long been in negotiations over a multi-billion-dollar sale of F-16 Viper fighter jets, which are crucial to Türkiye’s efforts to upgrade and modernize its air force. In 2021, Türkiye requested to purchase 40 F-16s and modernization kits for 80 warplanes, though negotiations stalled due to rising political disputes. The bulk of Türkiye's fighter fleet consists of F-16 jets, however, many are old models and need significant upgrades. Therefore, Ankara desperately needs to modernize and boost its air force capabilities.

    Earlier in July 2022, the House of Representatives approved legislation prohibiting the administration from selling the F-16s unless Ankara could prove the deal was vital for US national security. To put it simply, the US required Ankara to abstain from using fighter jets to intimidate Greece while ignoring Athens's immense provocations in the Aegean Sea. Initially, it was evident that Türkiye would decline abiding such premature conditions.

    The necessity to supply Ankara with additional F16 jets emerged due to the ongoing global security cataclysms stemming from Russia's aggressive policy on the immediate border of NATO, posing a security challenge to the community. Historically, Türkiye has been the main stronghold of NATO's southern flanks, thus becoming a critical member of the alliance. Although Ankara – NATO relations fluctuated in the last several years, it did not decrease the country's strategic importance for the Atlantic Community. Hence, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that US President Joe Biden conveyed his administration’s support for the sale to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when the two leaders briefly met in Bali, adding that its swift finalization is in the interests of all the parties, including NATO.

    F16 fleet of the Turkish Air Force

    The current attempt of the US to mend ties with the long-term partner is a major breakthrough as the security partnership between the two has been significantly damaged since the US ousted Ankara from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program in 2019 following Türkiye's much-opposed purchase of Russian S-400 air defence systems. Moreover, the final approval of the F16s purchase by Ankara was also one of the implicit conditions for its final nod to the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO. Hence, shortly after Ankara lifted its veto on the Nordic enlargement at the alliance’s Madrid summit in July, the US reaffirmed its intent to proceed with the purchase of fighter jets.

    Türkiye 's efforts to get more concessions from the West to address its security concerns yielded positive results, as the decision on F16 jets followed by Sweden's and Finland's promise to cooperate with Ankara regarding the terrorist threat. Ankara refers to the radical Kurdish separatist movement, Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and its affiliations that have been based in the Nordic states for many years while talking about terrorist threats. As a result, both Stockholm and Helsinki pledged to lift arms embargoes against Turkey and address Ankara’s security concerns under a deal agreed upon in June during the NATO leaders’ summit in Madrid. Such a deal enables Türkiye to push for a freeze of "terror assets" in Sweden and Finland and demand more security guarantees from both countries.

    Although the US sanctioned the sale of additional modernized F16s to Ankara, the request of Greece to purchase the most advanced F35 fighter jets was approved, in addition to the purchased French Rafales. Moreover, Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-16, is already upgrading 83 of Greece's F-16s to the Block 72 configuration, making them the most advanced F-16s in Europe. Athens received the first two of these upgraded jets on September 12.

    Nevertheless, the National Defense Authorization Act's final draft implies that “North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies should not conduct unauthorized territorial overflights of another NATO ally’s airspace.” Indeed, both Ankara and Athens hailed this key formulation as a diplomatic victory.

    The Greek-Turkish border on the bridge over Maritsa (Meriç) River, in the Thrace region

    Undoubtedly, amid growing threats and security challenges, the US seeks to strengthen its positions by facilitating dialogue between its two main regional allies – Türkiye and Greece. The possible diplomatic thaw between the two could eliminate threats and pave the way for deeper security partnerships in the region.

    Caliber.Az

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