Despite objections from U.S. lawmakers, the Biden Administration has asked Congress to approve the sale of upgraded weapons and equipment to Turkey-owned American-made F-16 fighter jets, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.
The informal reviews submitted to Congress include the proposed sale of Sidewinder missiles, Amraam missiles and software and hardware updates to F-16 cockpits already in Turkey, according to people familiar with the matter. Turkey’s arms purchase is expected to exceed $500 million, according to one of the people, who requested from Bloomberg not to be identified in advance of a formal announcement.
A bipartisan group of 52 U.S. Representatives joined Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Hellenic Caucus Co-Chair Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) in pressing the departments of State and Defense to block the sale of next-generation U.S. F-16 fighter jets and upgrade kits to Turkey President Erdogan’s increasingly hostile regime, the Armenian National Committee of America reported in February.
“There can be only one American answer to both of these requests: No jets for Turkey,” ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian said in February when the U.S. lawmakers urged the Biden Administration to block the sale of military hardware to Turkey.
The Biden administration believes a potential sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey would be in line with U.S. national security interests and would also serve NATO’s long-term unity, the State Department said in a March 16 letter to Congress. While that letter fell short of explicitly supporting the deal, the State Department is now pushing for the sale.
A State Department spokesman said the U.S. values its relationship with Turkey, and its ability to continue to work with other NATO members remains a priority, Bloomberg reported.
In fact, according to Bloomberg, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are expected to discuss the issue in Washington on May 18.
In July 2019, the Pentagon excluded Turkey from buying fighter jets after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government purchased a Russian-made S-400 missile system that runs counter to NATO’s security protocols. In September, Turkey sent a formal request to the US to buy 40 new F-16 Block 70 aircraft and nearly 80 kits from Lockheed Martin to modernize its existing fighters.
The Biden Administration’s push to Congress to approve the arms sales to Turkey is seen as a nod to Ankara as the Russian military campaign against Ukraine drags on.
“Turkey has sought a middle ground toward the war in Ukraine. The government in Ankara has been reluctant to burn its bridges with Russian President Vladimir Putin — in part fearing a rupture would put Turkish forces deployed in Syria at risk of attack by Russian-backed Syrian government troops. But it has supplied Kyiv with lethal Turkish-made armed drones and shut its straits and air space to Russian military ships and aircraft,” the Bloomberg report said.