The United States support for the provision of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey has sparked controversy as lawmakers question the sale’s alleged links to Sweden’s NATO membership bid.
In a recent press briefing, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller reiterated the support of the United States administration for the provision of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.
“We have supported the provision of F-16s to Türkiye for some time,” stated Miller during the press briefing. “We’ve made that clear publicly that we support it, but that there are a number of members of Congress who, as much as we don’t believe the issue should be linked with [Sweden’s] NATO accession, there are members of Congress who believe that it is.”
Turkey requested the sale of 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 Vipers, 79 modernization kits for existing aircraft, and an array of ammunition to modernize the Turkish Air Force fighter fleet. This request follows the scrapping of an order for more than 100 F-35 stealth fighter jets after Turkey chose to procure Russian-made S-400 missile systems.
Lawmakers raise concerns in letter to Secretary of State Blinken
In a letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a bipartisan group of six lawmakers questioned the alleged link between the F-16 fighter sale and Sweden’s NATO membership, referencing media reports indicating that the administration was leveraging the deal to encourage Turkey’s approval. The document was signed by Democrat Chris Pappas, Frank Pallone, John Sarbanes, and Dina Titus, and Republican Gus Bilirakis and Nicole Malliotakis.
“If an agreement for the sale of F-16s and modernization kits to Turkey is under consideration, we strongly urge that any final agreement must include mechanisms that provide for the pause, delay, or snapback of the transfer of such weapons if Turkey engages in actions that threaten or undermine US national security interests,” the letter reads.
“There will be consequences”
Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also expressed his concerns regarding the F-16 sale going forward.
“If the administration chooses to override the F-16 veto, I will oppose it and there will be consequences,” Menendez said, as quoted by Cyprus News Agency. “I have to make sure that our real partners, like Greece, will be in a good position regardless of what happens in the next few days in terms of NATO and Turkey.”
When asked about the timeframe for a decision, Menendez stated that it could potentially be reached within the week after the 2023 NATO Vilnius Summit.
The senator has repeatedly opposed the deal in past years, pointing at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “alarming and destabilizing behavior in Turkey and against neighboring NATO allies.”
In August 2022, Congress passed an amendment demanding that President Joe Biden certify Turkey has not “violated the sovereignty of Greece, including through territorial overflights” for at least 120 days before the sale of F-16 fighters.
In April 2023, the State Department approved a limited upgrade of Turkey’s current fleet of F-16 fighters for an estimated total cost of $259 million. The modernization included new avionics such as an Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System. The number of aircraft affected was not detailed.