The United States backs Turkey purchasing F-16s and modernizing its existing fleet as a boon for U.S. security, several news outlets reported last week.
“The U.S. Department of Defense fully supports Turkey’s modernization plans for its F-16 fleet,” Assistant Secretary for Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallande told reporters on Wednesday.
“These plans are in the works,” she said. “But the United States supports Turkey’s modernization of its fighter fleet, because that is a contribution to NATO security and, therefore, American security.”
Speaking at a news conference in Madrid that closed the NATO Summit 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden confirmed the American position.
“I said back in December, as you’ll recall – we should sell them the F-16 jets and modernize those jets, as well. It’s not in our interest not to do that. And there was no quid pro quo with that. It was just that we should sell – but I need congressional approval to be able to do that. And I think we can get that,” Biden said.
Biden’s “no quid pro quo” remark might have been referring to rumors that Turkey had extracted the sale of the F-16s from the U.S. as a concession for abandoning its long opposition to NATO membership for Sweden and Finland. These two nations have dropped their historical neutrality in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Turkey’s ulterior motive in objecting to Swedish and Finnish accession to NATO is probably to get certain concessions from NATO countries regarding its defense industry, rather than preventing Sweden’s or Finland’s alleged support of terrorism,” stated Dr. Salim Çevik, associate of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, in late May.
“These concessions include U.S. approval for the modernization of Turkey’s F-16s and the lifting of all official and informal arms embargoes imposed by NATO member countries,” Çevik had stated. “Negotiations are already ongoing behind closed doors.”
Under President Donald Trump, in 2019 the U.S. cut Turkey out of the F-35 program because of Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 mobile surface-to-air missile system developed by a state-owned Russian firm.
“Unfortunately, Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air-defense systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible. The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the White House said in response.
In 2020, the Trump administration further sanctioned Turkey over its S-400 acquisition, putting a ban on all U.S. export licenses and authorizations for Turkey’s defense industries.
In October 2021, Turkey made a request to Washington to buy 40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16s and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes. This is the request that the Biden administration is now green-lighting, which indicates a much more accommodating approach toward Turkey.
As early as March 2022, the U.S. State Department expressed readiness to accommodate Turkey’s request for F-16s and modernization kits.
This U.S. amenability was communicated to Democrat Congressman Frank Pallone and more than 50 lawmakers from both parties, who had urged Biden to reject Ankara’s requests, citing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s lack of commitment to NATO and his human rights abuses.
“The Administration believes that there are nonetheless compelling long-term NATO alliance unity and capability interests, as well as U.S. national security, economic and commercial interests that are supported by appropriate U.S. defense trade ties with Turkey,” wrote the State Department’s top official for legislative affairs, Naz Durakoğlu.
“The proposed sale will require a Congressional notification if the Department of State were to approve it,” she stated.
Biden met with Erdoğan during the recent NATO Summit 2022, where he thanked the Turkish president “for what you did, putting together the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden.”