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Why Turkey is interested in Eurofighter Typhoon jets

The Turkish air force needs 40 European fighter jets if the F-16 deal doesn't progress, but Germany isn't ready for that
An air force Eurofighter jet accompanies the flight of an Airbus A400M of the German Air Force carrying the German Chancellor towards the military airport of Cologne Koeln-Wahn from Berlin Schoenefeld, to participate in a military capability demonstration, on October 23, 2023. (AFP)
A Eurofighter jet accompanies the flight of a German Airbus A400M carrying the German chancellor, 23 October (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

After year-long inspections and negotiations, Turkey formally declared on Thursday that it would like to purchase 40 Eurofighter Typhoon jets as a stopgap option before its fifth-generation locally produced Kaan fighter jet enters service in 2030. 

Turkish officials last year told Middle East Eye that the Turkish air force was considering the Eurofighter as an insurance policy in case the US slow-walked or even blocked an F-16 sale and modernisation package, as its current fleet of fighter jets is rapidly ageing. 

As the Biden administration seems in no hurry to advance the $20bn F-16 deal, tying it to the Turkish parliament’s ratification of Sweden’s Nato bid, Turkey's defence ministry continues to look for alternatives. 

Ankara’s request for 40 units of Eurofighters matches the current F-16 deal, which includes 40 advanced F-16Vs and upgrade packages for its 79 existing jets. 

However, Turkish Defence Minister Yasar Guler told parliament that Ankara would be interested in buying both F-16s and Eurofighters at the same time, a costly and unexpected commitment. Saudi Arabia, in comparison, signed a $12.5bn deal with the UK to purchase 48 Eurofighter jets in 2017. 

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"We want to buy the Eurofighter. A very effective aircraft. These planes are jointly produced by the UK, Germany and Spain. Both England and Spain say 'yes', and now they are working to persuade Germany," Guler said. "The UK and Spain say, 'We will solve that problem.'" 

Turkey has been primarily negotiating the deal with UK since last year. 

Can Kasapoglu, a senior fellow at Washington-based think tank the Hudson Institute, says operating both systems would inevitably bring hardship stemming from the dichotomy in the arsenal. 

“It would mean different simulators, managing two pilot pools, different maintenance infrastructure, and even a different basing outlook,” he told MEE.

“Nevertheless, in the realm of defence diplomacy, procuring a Eurofighter Typhoon is way safer than the Russian or Chinese options. After all, opting for the European solution would not trigger sanctions or diplomatic divergences [from the US].” 

Turkey has threatened in the past to purchase Russian-made fighter jets, but Russia's struggles in the Ukraine war have deeply diminished the standing of Russian weaponry in Turkish eyes. There are also worries over possible western sanctions on the Turkish defence industry if any deal with Moscow was inked.

A Turkish source familiar with the defence ministry’s thinking said that Turkey doesn’t have enough pilots to invest in both the F-16 and Eurofighter systems, so eventually it would have to pick one of them to depend on.

"Turkey is interested in the most advanced Tranch 4 variable," the source added, speaking about the type of Eurofighter Typhoon jet it is eyeing.

German opposition

One main obstacle in front of the deal is Berlin’s opposition. The jets are produced by a consortium of countries consisting of Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK. 

Christian Molling, the deputy director of the German Council on Foreign Relations's research institute, says Turkey had been on Germany’s scrutiny list for a long time due to its use of German weapons, such as Leopard tanks, in internal security operations or land-based warfare in Syria, therefore Berlin isn’t amused by the request. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Berlin on Friday, meeting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Responding to a question from a journalist, Erdogan angrily said that no one could threaten Turkey with fighter jet sales and Ankara could find other countries for such procurement.

The Turkish president did not impress the German public with his condemnation of Israel's bombardment of Gaza and the way he called on Germany to condemn the Israelis for creating a humanitarian catastrophe in the Palestinian enclave.

“There has been a long kind of question mark behind delivering stuff to Turkey,” Molling told MEE.

“[Erdogan] himself has made the situation additionally tricky, simply because of his policy lines on Hamas, not seeing them as a terrorist group but freedom fighters, etc. Of course, it has just not carried or received great sympathy in Berlin from no one on the political spectrum.” 

'The Green Party within Scholz’s coalition is the one who is against any exports to Turkey'

- German source

Erdogan later on Saturday said that Scholz himself didn’t bring up the topic of the Eurofighter sale during the talks. 

Germany has previously blocked a similar Eurofighter jet sale to Saudi Arabia, angering the British authorities. Local German producer Airbus and its workers' union IG Metall jointly demonstrated last week in Manching, telling the German government that its opposition to large-scale procurements from non-European countries and expiry of programmes such as the Eurofighter is a mistake.

Lights might go out at some Airbus factories if the company doesn’t get more orders by 2030.

One German source, who is familiar with the German government’s thinking on the sale, told MEE that Airbus must have already been lobbying the Chancellery to progress the deal. 

“The Green Party within Scholz’s coalition is the one who is against any exports to Turkey, the Chancellery and Scholz are pragmatic,” said the source. 

The source said if the deal gets deadlocked, it would eventually fall on the lap of the Bundessicherheitsrat (Federal Security Council), which includes Green heavyweights such as Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who are likely to oppose it. 

“But Germany cannot risk again that competitors worldwide sell their products as 'German-free' as the French do,” the source said.

European partners, such as Italy, Spain and the UK, might opt to produce weapons without German industrial output in the future.

“It would be a big blowback, considering also the statements of Scholz and Defence Minister Boris Pistorius to strengthen [the] defence industrial base in Europe," the source said, tying it to the chancellor's Zeitenwende speech following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which suggested Germany needs to spend €100bn to modernise its military.

“And what is the European industrial base if not Airbus?”

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