The Turkish Parliament has officially endorsed Sweden's NATO entry, a significant stride in the alliance's ongoing expansion and a potential catalyst for Ankara's long-anticipated F-16 purchase.
Awaiting the signature of Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the parliamentary vote saw 287 in favor, 55 against, with four abstentions, underscoring broad support for Sweden's NATO inclusion. The ratification is poised for swift publication in the Official Gazette.
Sweden's journey toward NATO membership, initiated in May of the previous year, secured unanimous approval from all member nations as a prerequisite. Initially impeded by Turkey due to concerns over Stockholm's stance on the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), designated as a terrorist group by Ankara, Sweden addressed these concerns, leading to eventual approval.
In a May 2023 call, U.S. President Joe Biden informed his Turkish counterpart that dropping objections to Sweden joining NATO was a prerequisite for purchasing F-16 fighters. "He (Erdogan) still wants to work on something on the F-16s. I told him we wanted a deal with Sweden, so let's get that done. And so we'll be back in touch with one another," Biden had told reporters back then.
President Erdogan tied the ratification of Sweden's NATO membership to the U.S. Congress' approval of Turkey's request to procure 40 new F-16 fighter jets and kits for modernizing its existing fleet. While the Biden administration did not explicitly link the F-16 sale to Sweden's NATO membership, influential members of Congress expressed hesitancy to support the deal without prior approval of Sweden's accession.
With President Erdogan expected to sign Sweden's NATO membership into law soon, attention now turns to the pending approval of the F-16 purchase. The White House backs the sale, and analysts anticipate a prompt deal following Turkey's approval of Sweden's NATO membership. Nevertheless, uncertainties persist regarding the U.S. Congress' timeline for approval, rooted in concerns over NATO enlargement delays and Turkey's human rights record.
Turkey's request for the purchase of F-16 Block 70 fighter jets from the United States, pending for three calendar years, remains in limbo. F-16 Block 70 requests from other countries, including Bahrain, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Greece, Taiwan, and Jordan, have been approved, with Turkey standing as NATO's second-largest military power.
Despite Turkey's exclusion from the F-35 project and sanctions under CAATSA, the F-16 Block 70 procurement involves acquiring 40 new F-16 fighter jets and upgrading 79 existing F-16s to the Block 70 configuration. Estimates on the overall cost vary, with some reports suggesting around $20 billion, though experts have cast doubts on this figure. This upgrade enhances their capabilities with advanced radar, screens, collision avoidance systems, and various other enhancements.