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Turkey may ask US to reuse money paid for F-35s to buy F-16s

Senior Turkish official says Turkey wants to put the $1.4bn it has already paid to use to replace its aging F-16 fleet
An F-16 fighter jet flying on the wing of Turkish president's Recep Tayyip Erdogan's plane, while travelling from Ankara to Istanbul on 15 July 2017 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Turkey could ask the United States to reuse the money Ankara has already paid for the F-35 fighter jets programme to purchase and modernise F-16 jets, a senior Turkish official told a local newspaper.

Turkey has paid $1.4bn for the development and production of fifth generation fighter jet F-35 over the years. However, Ankara was ejected from the consortium in 2019 following its purchase of the Russian-made defence system S-400s, with Washington alleging that it could steal sensitive technology.

US encouraged Turkey to modernise fleet of F-16 fighter jets
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“We could evaluate the alternative to enlarge our F-16 fleet and modernise our F-16s with the money we have already paid for [F-35s],” Ibrahim Kalin, a chief policy adviser and Turkish presidential spokesperson told Milliyet daily on Wednesday.

Kalin said it was too early to tell whether this would be the solution since the negotiations had not yet taken place on the issue.

Turkey sent a letter of request on 40 F-16s and 80 modernisation kits to Washington last month, which is believed to have a $6bn price tag. The move surprised many since there is a significant amount of ongoing animosity in the US Congress towards Ankara for its regional policies, and Turkey is currently subject to US CAATSA sanctions following its S-400 purchase.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month said he hoped to talk about the F-35 dossier with his US counterpart Joe Biden at the G20 meeting in Rome later in October.

“We made a $1.4bn payment, what will become of that?” Erdogan said. “We did not - and do not - earn this money easily. Either they will give us our planes or they will give us the money.”

Once Ankara was excluded from that programme, it had to move to update its rapidly ageing F-16 fleet. It has also launched several of its own projects, like the TF-X fighter aircraft currently being developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries and the British arms company BAE Systems, but it will take some time for these to get to a place where they can be serially produced.

One Turkish official told MEE that Turkey’s ageing F-16s fleet, if not restored, could put not only the security of Ankara’s but also Nato’s southern flank at risk.

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