Turkey's request for the purchase of F-16 Block 70 fighter jets from the United States remains in limbo, despite three calendar years passing since the initial request.
The F-16 Block 70 requests from other countries, including Bahrain, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Greece, Taiwan, and Jordan, have been approved, with delivery schedules in progress. Notably, Turkey is NATO's second-largest military power.
The primary distinction between the F-16 Block 70 fighter jets and the current F-16s lies in their classification as 4.5 generation aircraft, attributed to the inclusion of the AESA Radar.
The crucial matter of Turkey's request for the F-16 Block 70s is expected to be at the forefront of discussions during U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to Istanbul on January 5, 2024. The visit is part of a broader regional tour aimed at mitigating tensions in the region.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller outlined that Blinken's discussions with Turkish counterparts would encompass various areas of bilateral and regional cooperation, emphasizing the completion of Turkey's ratification of Sweden's NATO membership.
The U.S. has urged Turkey to settle issues with Sweden to approve the F-16 sale, with Turkey expressing concerns about Sweden's alleged support for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). In December 2023, the Turkish parliament's foreign affairs committee approved Sweden's bid to join NATO, potentially accelerating F-16 sale approval to Turkey.
The backdrop of Turkey's F-16 Block 70 request includes its removal from the $399 billion F-35 project by the U.S. due to the purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia, leading to sanctions under CAATSA. Turkey had invested $1.4 billion in the F-35 program and initially intended to procure F-35s.
The F-16 Block 70 procurement for Turkey involves acquiring 40 new F-16 fighter jets and upgrading 79 existing F-16s to the Block 70 configuration, along with spare parts and ammunition. Estimates on the overall cost vary, with some reports suggesting around $20 billion, though experts have cast doubts on this figure.
The F-16 Block 70/72 modernization program includes upgrading the fighter jets to a 4++ generation classification, featuring enhancements like the APG-83 AESA radar, high-resolution screens, Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance Systems, and advanced weapon stations. Additionally, the procurement involves integrating new ammunition and missile systems, electronic warfare equipment, IRST pods, and advanced targeting pods for enhanced aircraft capabilities.