Turkey looks to modernize its air force, both with national means and with possible purchases, after the deal on F-35 jets fell through, the country has requested to buy 40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes from the United States, its NATO ally. The deal, worth billions, is still working its way through the Foreign Military Sales process, which is subject to approval by the U.S. State Department as well as the U.S. Congress, which can block deals.
Turkey had ordered more than 100 F-35 jets, also made by Lockheed Martin Corp., but was removed from the program in 2019 by the U.S. Department of Defense on the pretext of purchasing a Russian missile defense system, a move regarded as “unilateral and unlawful” by Ankara. United States Department of Defense argues that the S-400 air missile systems acquired by Turkey could be used by Russia to covertly obtain classified details on the Lockheed Martin F-35 jets and are incompatible with NATO systems.
Turkey, however, insists that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance. Ankara has reiterated various times that the removal from the jet program was illegal and unilateral, demanding a fair approach and saying that it is open to negotiations with Washington. The request for the jets will likely have a difficult time getting approval from the U.S. Congress, where sentiment toward Turkey has soured deeply in recent years. In December 2020, Washington blacklisted Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), its chief, Ismail Demir, and three other employees.
The Turkish Air Force has a total of 270 F-16C/D aircraft in its inventory, all of them Block 30/40/50 models. The Turkish Air Force acquired its first F-16s in 1987. F-16s were later produced in Turkey under four phases of Peace Onyx programs. In 2015, they were upgraded to Block 50/52+ with CCIP by Turkish Aerospace Industries. Turkish F-16s are being fitted with indigenous AESA radars and EW suite called SPEWS-II. Turkey is one of five countries to locally produce F-16s. As a part of Turkish F-16 modernization program new air to air missiles are being developed and tested for the aircraft.