Türkiye on Sunday reiterated its frustration over the prolonged process of its request to acquire F-16 fighter jets from the United States, again signaling it could look elsewhere in case Washington fails to provide it with the warplanes.
“We want everyone to know that we are not desperate in this matter; we have options in our hands,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said, stressing they were waiting for approval by the U.S. Congress and that “there is a constructive environment in general.”
Ankara has stressed that it would not accept any conditions linked to its purchase of the F-16 jets and called on the Biden administration, which has backed the deal, to maintain a decisive stance.
Türkiye has been seeking to modernize its existing fleet to update its air force and sought to buy 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 jets and nearly 80 modernization kits from the U.S., a deal reportedly valued at $20 billion (TL 379.15 billion).
The request came instead of a refund for the $1.4 billion payment Türkiye had made for the next-generation F-35 fighter jets. The payment was issued before being removed from the multinational program developing the aircraft over Ankara’s decision to acquire Russian-made S-400 air missile defense systems.
Some members of the U.S. Congress have voiced objections to the F-16 deal and lastly tied its approval to Türkiye’s ratification of the NATO membership of Sweden and Finland, which must be agreed upon by all 30 members of the trans-Atlantic defense alliance. Only the parliaments of Türkiye and Hungary are yet to consent.
Akar on Saturday urged for common sense and called on the U.S. Congress to pursue a rational approach to the issue.
“There are negative statements that some members of Congress have made. We want common sense to prevail. They need to approach the problem rationally. Türkiye being strong means that NATO is strong. So everyone needs to come to their senses,” Akar said.
During his visit to Ankara last month, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to delivering F-16 warplanes to Türkiye.
Blinken said it was “essential for ongoing NATO interoperability and in the national interest of the U.S.”
Türkiye has been delaying Sweden and Finland’s admission to NATO, citing concerns over terrorism.
Ankara has complained about what it sees as Stockholm’s tolerance of support for the PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by Türkiye, the U.S., and the European Union, its Syrian affiliate YPG and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which is behind a 2016 failed coup attempt, as well as their sympathizers.
The Nordic countries dropped decades of military non-alignment and applied last year to join the trans-Atlantic defense pact after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Ankara vowed it might consider alternatives, including Russia if the U.S. fails to follow its promise to deliver the F-16s to the Turkish air force.
Türkiye had previously ordered more than 100 U.S. F-35 jets, but Washington removed Türkiye from the program in 2019 after the nation bought S-400s. Türkiye has called the move unjust and demanded a reimbursement of the $1.4 billion payment.
While Congress can block foreign arms sales, it has not previously mustered the two-thirds majorities in both chambers to overcome a presidential veto.