Turkey's puzzling F-16 fighter jet move

Turkey's puzzling F-16 fighter jet move

Unrefuted media reports suggested that Turkey has made a request to the U.S. to purchase 40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.

The formal appeal was made on Sept. 30, the same reports informed, showing the move came following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi and weeks before his scheduled –although not yet confirmed by the White House - talk with United States President Joe Biden in Rome on the sidelines of the G20 Summit.

Some chronology is needed: On Sept. 23, in an interview with Turkish journalists in New York during the U.N. General Assembly, President Erdoğan strongly criticized the U.S. for both supporting the YPG in northern Syria and sanctioning Turkey over its procurement of S-400 air defense systems from Russia.

The U.S. should either deliver 5 F-35 fifth-generation fighters to Turkey or reimburse the $1.4 billion Turkey has already paid, he said, implying that Turkey can seek other suppliers if its requests are not met by the U.S., referring to the purchase of S-400s from Russia after the U.S. did not approve to sell Patriots. He echoed this view in an interview with CBS and answered affirmatively to a question on whether Turkey will buy the second batch of the Russian air systems despite Washington’s threats.

Many argued that Erdoğan, who has been publicly repeating that he could not establish a good dialogue with Biden, chose to follow a harsher line due to the fact that his request to meet in person in New York was not met. But, a day before his meeting with Putin on Sept. 29, it was announced that Erdoğan and Biden will hold a face-to-face meeting in Rome in late October.

Erdoğan met Putin on Sept. 29 and just a day after this encounter, Turkey has made the official request for the F-16s. The Turkish President, in his return from Sochi, told the journalists that Turkey and Russia agreed “to advance their cooperation in the defense industry areas such as plane engines, fighter jets and submarines.”

This request will sure be on the agenda if Erdoğan and Biden meet in Rome in late October. Erdoğan had said that he explained why Turkey had to buy Russian air defense systems in their in-person meeting in mid-June in Brussels.

Thus, this request will allow Erdoğan to ask Biden whether Washington will authorize the sale of the F-16s or Turkey should seek other suppliers.

According to the reports, this multibillion-dollar worth sale requires the authorization of the State Department and the U.S. Congress respectively. Fewer people believe Congress will authorize the sale.

Still, it is interesting for the government to make such a request to the U.S. although the latter has denied delivering the five F-35s Turkey has already paid for and has not taken any step to resolve the matter. Plus, this request comes as NATO member Turkey and Russia are talking about how to advance their cooperation in the field of the defense industry. This situation is puzzling enough and needs to be explained.