Turkish Presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın has said that Turkey is considering buying Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter jets from the United States.
His remarks confirm a report by Reuters last week, which said that Ankara made a request to the U.S. to buy 40 F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes, as the NATO ally looks to modernize its Air Force after the purchase of F-35 jets fell through.
Speaking to the daily Milliyet on Oct. 12, Kalın noted that the issue is still being evaluated.
"Expanding our current F-16 fleet and modernizing those we have can be evaluated as an alternative," Kalın said, as he also slammed the U.S. for removing Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program.
"It's a completely unlawful and unjust practice. It's a wrong and costly decision not only for Turkey, but also for the F-35 program. We hope that they abandon this mistake as soon as possible," he said.
"Otherwise, we have paid 1.4 billion to that project."
Ankara had ordered more than 100 F-35 jets but was removed from the program in 2019 after it acquired Russian S-400 missile defense systems.
The decades-old partnership between the NATO allies has gone through unprecedented tumult in the past five years over disagreements on Syria policy, Ankara’s closer ties with Moscow, its naval ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean, U.S. charges against a state-owned Turkish bank and erosion of rights and freedoms in Turkey.
The request for the jets will likely have a difficult time getting approval from the U.S. Congress, where sentiment towards Turkey has soured deeply over recent years, primarily due to Ankara's purchase of the S-400s and its problematic human rights track record.
Ankara's purchase of the S-400s has also triggered U.S. sanctions. In December 2020, Washington blacklisted Turkey's Defense Industry Directorate, its chief, İsmail Demir, and three other employees.
Since then the U.S. has repeatedly warned Turkey against buying further Russian weaponry. But President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently indicated Ankara still intended to buy a second batch of S-400s from Russia, a move that could deepen a rift with Washington.
There is bipartisan support in U.S. Congress to push the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to put further pressure on Ankara, primarily over its purchase of Russian weapons and its human rights track record.
Ankara has said it hopes for better ties under Biden.
According to Kalın, it's natural for Ankara to seek alternatives if the F-35 row won't be solved soon. Ankara's first choice would be to acquire F-35s, he also said.
"Turkey is not without alternatives in the area of the defense industry. It can choose to purchase the products it needs from its allies and markets across the world," he noted.
"The embargoes imposed on Turkey don't have the same effect as they did in the past. If someone is seeking to punish Turkey through this, they should be reminded that it's a waste of time," Kalın added.