The great Turkish sell out – F-16 upgrades for NATO membership of Finland and Sweden

Is Turkey bartering its national interest for F-16Vs?

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

Turkey was a partner in the F-35 programme, but the Trump administration kicked it out because it bought and used Russian S-400 “Triumf” air defence systems. As a result, Turkey asked the U.S. to transfer 40 F-16 “Viper” fighter bombers and 80 kits to upgrade older planes of this type to the latest standard.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan backed up this demand by announcing that Ankara would ask Washington to reimburse it for the $1.4 billion it invested in the F-35 programme before it was terminated. Turkey also highlighted the importance of its membership in NATO and emphasised how its geographic location offers it access to the Black Sea.

Even though the Biden administration is somewhat friendly toward Ankara [the sale of F-16s to Turkey would serve U.S. interests and counteract Russian influence, according to a Department of State official], the Congress is much more cautious. This is mostly because Turkey is a regional baddie involved in several conflicts [Syria, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, Iraq], and Ankara’s ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean, more specifically because Turkey meddles in Greek and Cypriot

The fact that Sweden and Finland want to join NATO has given Turkey more ways to put pressure on the alliance. Ankara is now preventing these two Nordic countries from joining the alliance because of how they treat Kurdish groups, some of which, like the PKK, are considered terrorist groups. Another reason is that Ankara doesn’t want them to pressurise it over Kurdish issues after they join the alliance like Greece does over many issues, including Cyprus.

During the NATO summit in Madrid in June 2022, when Turkey, Sweden, and Finland made a deal to solve their problems. Did Turkey sign the agreement because the United States said they would send them an F-16 “Viper” plane? A government official in the United States says this was not the case. However,  after talking to his Turkish counterpart, President Biden promised to take the steps needed to “unblock” this file. He said he needed permission from Congress to do this, and he thinks he can get it.

A few weeks later, however, when the House of Representatives looked at the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, or the American law for funding defence), they passed a text that would stop Turkey from getting F-16Vs. The text pointed out Ankara’s “hostile” attitude toward Athens and raised human rights concerns. This didn’t stop a group of Turkish officials from going to Washington to talk about buying Lockheed-Martin planes.

Since then, Sweden and Finland have kept waiting outside NATO’s door, and Turkey, along with Hungary, has not yet agreed to let them join. After the Senate looked at the bill, restrictions on selling F-16Vs to Ankara were taken out of the final NDAA.

And new information from the Wall Street Journal shows that something that was once thought to have nothing to do with Sweden and Finland joining NATO now does.

The American economic daily reports that the Biden administration plans to ask Congress for permission to sell Turkey forty F-16 Vipers, seventy-nine kits for modifying existing aircraft, 900 air-to-air missiles, and 800 bombs. At the same time, it plans to do the same thing with 30 F-35As going to Greece. One official told the Wall Street Journal that it would be one of the best deals on weapons in recent years. There would be a cost of $20 billion.

The Wall Street Journal says that the Biden administration hopes that the possibility of this sale will get Turkey to stop its remaining objections to Sweden and Finland’s candidatures.

When Mevlut Cavusoglu, the head of Turkish diplomacy, goes to Washington next week as part of his job, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which oversees the sale of American weapons, is expected to give its opinion. According to the newspaper’s sources, it would be a “coincidence” if the news came out at the same time that it was announced that Greece would be getting 30 F-35A planes. A “lucky” coincidence because it “may stop Athens from complaining” about the deal that was given to Turkey.

The F-16 Viper has Link 16, an APG-83 SABR active aerial radar, a high-tech mission computer, a Center Pedestal Display (which shows the terrain) and better communication. Greece, too, wants to upgrade its 85 F-16s to the latest standard.

Congress will have thirty days, beginning when the notification is published and continuing until it is transmitted, to voice any objections to the possibility of selling F-16s to Ankara. Some well-known lawmakers have already said they won’t vote for it, and others have said they will. For example, Bob Menendez, who is in charge of the [Democratic] Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has vowed to oppose the sale.

According to Defense Turk, in any event, Turkey would have made it known that it is prepared to have the F-16 “Viper” assembled by Turkish Aerospace Industries [TAI]. This is because Turkey wants to wrap up this matter as quickly as possible.


  1. India was offered the best F21 a 4.5 gen F16 but refused, a pity as they are the best option for a well priced alternative to the Russian planes that sre currently unable to even dominate the skys over Ukraine.


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