23.04.2023 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

The USA is still only planning to modernize the Turkish F-16 fighter jets

The USA is still only planning to modernize the Turkish F-16 fighter jets

The degree of independence of a state is determined by a number of factors, including its level of development of the economy, education, science, effective diplomacy, raw materials, technological and intellectual base, demography, and culture. In all situations, however, the state’s independence is inextricably related to the condition and level of combat capability of its armed troops, weapons, and professional command staff.

The price of independence drops considerably if a country lacks a combat-ready army, but it also increases the risk that all of its accomplishments will be overlooked and discounted in dire situations. For instance, as a result of World War II and its (regrettable for Japan) outcomes—the US nuclear strike on the Japanese towns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in response to the Japanese naval aviation attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor—Washington imposed limits on Japan. As a result, Japan lacks adequate military force while being a modern, technologically proficient, scientifically advanced, and economically developed country.

In the framework of the pre-election campaign, Turkish authorities have emphasized that the capabilities of the Turkish military-industrial complex already allow it manufacturing 80% of the weaponry of the Turkish army and navy. Indeed, during Recep Erdoğan’s presidency, Turkey’s military-industrial complex increased its economic share, the number of military companies and corporations increased, and the latest weapons and military equipment (particularly air and marine drones, APCs, small arms, air defense assets, and electronics) were produced. Turkey has been one of the leading exporters of contemporary weapons, with the use of these weapons (mainly the Bayraktar TB2 UAVs) in combat proving successful in Libya, Syria, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Ukraine.

Erdoğan’s stake for an autonomous foreign policy necessitates the building of a domestic military-industrial complex. The Strategic Plan of the Department of the Defense Industry for 2007-2011, focusing on the expansion of the domestic manufacturing sector, was implemented. As a result, by the plan’s conclusion in 2011, the defense was modernized. Turkish weaponry gained a foothold in the international arms export sector after Turkey had started producing 54% of the weapons and equipment for its own army.

During Erdoğan’s presidency, the top Turkish MIC firms ASELSAN and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) were listed among the top 100 global defense enterprises. In addition to these, Turkey also has a large number of other reputable defense manufacturers, including Havelsan, Roketsan, Otokar, and Baykar Makina.

The United States, Azerbaijan, the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Malaysia, Qatar, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and several African nations were the largest importers of Turkish weapons. At the same time, Turkey is actively exporting armored personnel carriers (Pars, Arma, and Kirpi), Bayraktar UAVs ( the latest attack drone Kyzyl Alma is on the way), and T129 ATAK attack helicopters. Turkey has its own artillery systems, rocket launchers, ALTAY Main Battle Tank Production Program, TAYFUN (Typhoon), ballistic missiles, and Hisar long-range surface-to-air missile systems.

Breakthrough achievements of Turkish military-industrial complex goods have become a reality during the presidency of Recep Erdoğan, who intends to make Turkey completely independent in this regard from Western supplies in the NATO bloc, and in certain cases, a rival in the arms sales markets. Of course, the Turkish military-industrial complex existed prior to Erdoğan’s presidency, growing within the framework of US and NATO initiatives. A lot of technological developments in Turkish armament (for example, unmanned aerial vehicles) have become a reality as a result of Ankara’s collaboration with NATO members and particularly with Israel. Subsequently, the military-industrial complex’s growth rate has contributed significantly to the Turkish state’s independence.

That being said, it should be acknowledged that Turkey is not yet capable of providing itself with all of the essential weaponry and military equipment without external partnership or relative dependence, such as on the USA and NATO. This applies to combat aviation, air defense assets, submarine and surface ships. Therefore, for the time being, Ankara must maintain external cooperation with significant participants in the arms markets and cannot disregard the US factor, given its NATO membership. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Spain, Germany, France, Israel, Russia, and China continue to be Turkey’s most important external military-technical counterparties. Despite the military-industrial complex’s growth rate, Turkey is unlikely to overtake the top three global arms exporters—the United States, Russia, and China—in the near future.

It is well known that Turkey is still dealing with issues related to the upgrading of its operational combat aviation, specifically F-16 fighter jets and aircraft fleet replenishment. As is known, the United States excluded Turkey from the program of development and delivery of modern fifth-generation fighters F-35 and refused to sell new F-16s to Turks, ostensibly because of Turkish-Russian military and technical cooperation, specifically Ankara’s purchase of S-400 air defense systems from Moscow for 2.5 billion dollars. Simultaneously, the United States chose to restrict the combat power of the Turkish Air Force, among other things, in order to maintain a balance of power between Greece and Turkey. Washington is specifically bolstering the Hellenic Air Force’s air fleet with the same updated F-16 fighter jets (and likely delivery of F-35 fighter aircrafts) and French Rafale fighter jets.

Part of US pressure on Turkey’s election campaign now revolves around the issue of arms cooperation. In other words, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggests that the Turkish authorities reduce the level of active relationships with Russia and increase their participation in anti-Russian sanctions; step up their support for the Kiev regime and remove obstacles in the way of Finland and Sweden joining NATO in exchange for the restoration of full military, technical, and political relations with the United States.

After the end of March of this year President Recep Erdoğan officially agreed to Finland’s joining the NATO block, Blinken declared in the US Congress about the expediency of resumption of military supplies to Turkey (in particular, modernized F-16 fighter jets and spare parts for them). In view of the alleged dangers posed by Russia and Iran, Blinken believes, it is in the interests of both the United States and NATO to restore military-technical ties with Turkey. Given his Jewish heritage and dedication to the military campaign of the coalition forces against Iran, some experts view the present head of the US State Department as the primary advocate for the interests of Israel (more specifically, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu).

However, the USA is not in a rush to begin weapons shipments to Turkey until the result of the presidential election is known. On April 18 of this year, it was announced in Washington that the US government (specifically, the Department of State and the relevant government department, which is a division of the Pentagon and is in charge of exporting weapons and funding) intends to modernize Turkish F-16 fighter jets at a cost of $259 million. The modifications relate to concerns in updating the avionics software for Turkey’s current F-16 fighter jet fleet.

The agreement is said to have obtained unofficial approval from the heads of US congressional committees. However, according to American media reports, the anti-Turkish lobby in the Congress (e.g., Frank Pallone, Adam Schiff, Jackie Speier, David Valadao, Gus Bilirakis, and others) is currently opposed to the sale of new F-16 fighter jets to Turkey for billions of dollars. The deal to upgrade Turkey’s outdated F-16 fighter jets came on the heels of Ankara’s approval of Finland’s NATO membership and hints of lessening tensions in Turkish-Greek relations on the eve of Turkey’s May election.

In other words, in response to Turkey’s actual decision to agree to Finland’s membership in the North Atlantic Military Alliance, the USA has simply verbally offered to supply the Turks with $259 million technical support in the form of fighter jet software equipment. We have a saying in Russia: “A promise of marriage is not tantamount to actually marrying” … In the case of the pragmatic and speculative West, however, the USA will probably keep its promise if:

(a) A pro-American leader (either Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu or the same Recep Erdoğan with a changed orientation from independence to dependence) comes to power in Turkey as a result of the May election;

(b) Turkey takes the next step and ratifies Sweden’s NATO membership.

(c) Turkey gives up its independent, pragmatic approach to ties with Russia.

The official rhetoric of President Erdoğan, his party, the government, and parliamentarians as of right now indicates that Turkey won’t alter its course toward steady independence and denounces the United States (the West) for intruding excessively in Turkey’s internal affairs. In our view President Erdoğan is honest and will actually follow his stated policy (rhetoric). It is true that one cannot always rely on sincerity in politics, and no one (including us) discounts the possibility that the current Turkish authorities made these declarations just for electoral purposes and out of concern for their followers’ votes.

In other words, “the East is a delicate matter.” Nobody can rule out that Turkey may change course under the influence of a variety of subjective and objective factors, as Ataturk claimed during the Lausanne Conference in 1923 when he stated that Turkey had received everything it could from Russia and that it now stood primarily on the side of the West and Britain.

Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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