Türkiye's military might set for significant boost
    US greenlights F-16 sale

    ANALYTICS  01 March 2024 - 15:45

    Fuad Shahbazov

    On February 29, the US Senate overwhelmingly voted 13-79 against a resolution that would have blocked a $23 billion F-16 sale to Türkiye that the Biden administration approved in January 2024.

    Türkiye has sought to lock down the sale, including 40 new F-16s made by Lockheed Martin and modernization kits for 79 fighter jets in its current fleet for several years. After stalling for more than a year, the State Department finally approved the sale when Türkiye ratified Sweden’s NATO membership. Ankara had made its ratification of Sweden’s membership contingent on the approval of the sale of the new jets.

    Although the Biden administration initially agreed to F16 sales to Türkiye, the US lawmakers had expressed objections due to strained relations between Washington and Ankara. However, Ankara and Washington opted for diplomatic normalization shortly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine unfolded in 2022, causing global security threats. Notably, the full-scale invasion forced traditionally non-bloc countries like Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership, which required Türkiye's confirmation. Indeed, Ankara pragmatically approached the issue by demanding F-16s and modernization kits in exchange for membership bids.

    However, the approval process for Sweden's membership appeared tumultuous as Ankara and Stockholm found it hard to reach a consensus on certain issues. As a result, the US lawmakers were upholding an unofficial bargain that Türkiye would get the fighter jets if it stopped blocking Sweden's accession to NATO.

    The sale had been held up for months over issues, including Türkiye's refusal to approve Sweden's accession to the military alliance. Türkiye first asked to purchase in October 2021. Earlier, the US expelled Türkiye from the F-35 co-production program in 2019 over Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 missile defense system due to fears Moscow could use its advanced radar system to spy on the stealth fighter jets.

    Although the membership issue has been solved and Sweden ascended into the alliance, some Republican lawmakers such as Rand Paul attempted to block the sale, calling it "an extortion by Ankara", though the Senate rejected Paul's motion.

    Consequently, Sweden's NATO membership is not the only source of concern for the US Senate as many conservatives and liberals in the country blame Türkiye for its “unprovoked attacks” of Kurdish militia in northern Syria, which consists of mainly PYD members, an affiliation of the notorious Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorist organization. Moreover, Ankara’s strong support to Azerbaijan and its deal with Russia to buy its S400 missile defense system and other matters.

    Nevertheless, seemingly, Ankara's greenlight to Finland and Sweden to join NATO at a critical time was too important to the overall strategic interests of the Western military alliance.

    Russia’s invasion of Ukraine presented a strategic imperative for Sweden’s NATO accession. As for Türkiye, the sale would upgrade the country’s aging F-16 fleet to a more capable model, a model that is compatible with the United States.

    In this vein, the fears of some US lawmakers stem from the fact that modernized additional F-16 fighter jets will significantly boost Ankara’s military capabilities against radical terrorist organizations in its close vicinity. Moreover, it will somehow enable Türkiye to maintain the balance of power in the Aegean Sea as its neighboring country, Greece, received the US approval for F-35s at the same time. Washington likely did so to avoid the appearance of favoritism between the two NATO members and to avoid altering the balance of airpower over the Aegean Sea in Greece’s favor.

    Hence, the sale of F-35 aircraft to Greece will provide a significant increase in capability as well as interoperability with NATO forces. However, the current positive dynamics of Ankara-Athens relations suggest that the sale of F-35s to Greece will unlikely trigger discontent in Türkiye. This is also another reason the Biden administration quickly confirmed both countries' bids regarding new fighter jets.


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