The United States State Department has approved the upgrade of Turkey’s current fleet of F-16 fighters for an estimated total cost of $259 million.
The potential sale was announced by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on April 17, 2023. It will now require approval by the US Congress.
The modernization includes hardware and software upgrades, and new avionics such as an Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System. The number of aircraft affected was not detailed.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by helping to improve Türkiye’s interoperability with NATO and ensure safety of flight for Türkiye’s existing F-16 aircraft,” the DSCA said, adding that “the proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”
This upgrade is the first major military sale between the two countries in years.
Diplomatic tension leaves Turkish Air Force in limbo
In July 2019, an order for more than 100 F-35 stealth fighter jets from Turkey was scrapped. Tensions arose between Washington and Ankara as the latter chose to procure Russian-made S-400 missile systems. Since then, the Turkish Air Force has been looking for alternatives to modernize its fighter fleet.
Turkey requested the sale of 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 Vipers, 79 modernization kits for existing aircraft, and an array of ammunition. The potential sale valued at $20 billion could be presented by the Biden administration to Congress. However, Senator Bob Menendez, Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opposed the idea.
“As I have repeatedly made clear, I strongly oppose the Biden administration’s proposed sale of new F-16 aircraft to Turkey,” Menendez said in a statement seen by Politico. “President Erdogan continues to undermine international law, disregard human rights and democratic norms, and engage in 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.