ANKARA – US President Joe Biden’s push to sell Turkey more F-16 fighter jets and upgrade the Turkish Air Force – which could be used against Greece in a conflict – could soon be surpassed by Greece hoping to acquire more advanced F-35’s.
Turkey was denied buying the superior American-made fighters because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan authorized purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems that undermine NATO – to which Greece, the US and Turkey belong.
“If our project to modernize the F-16 aircraft fails and Greece realizes its own projects, the Greek side will gain the upper hand in terms of combat aircraft in 2025,” said retired Turkish Air Force commander General Abidin Unal.
“Therefore, our program to procure 40 F-16 Viper aircraft and modernize up to 80 F-16s is vital,” he said, reported Forbes magazine writer Paul Iddon, who writes about Middle East political and military affairs.
There’s a lot of ifs involved as the US tries to walk the line between maintaining interests in Turkey after renewing a military cooperation deal that could see more American bases in Greece.
Turkey hopes the U.S. will approve a $20 billion deal it requested in October 2021 for 40 new F-16 Block 70 Viper jets and 79 modernization kits for upgrading the older F-16s in Turkey’s existing fleet.
But US Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who favors Greece, heads the body’s powerful Foreign Relations Committee and said he would do what he can to prevent Turkey from getting the F-16’s.
Even if the sale proceeds quickly, analysts have pointed out that Turkey will still have a while before getting new Viper jets due to the production backlog caused by massive demand among other F-16 operators, the magazine said.
Menendez supports selling fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters to Greece, which wants at least 20 of them despite reports of problems with them despite their superior technology.
In the meantime, Greece is getting French-made Rafale fighter jets and expects to have 24 in the Hellenic Air Force in operation in two years, by January, 2025 and has some of the best pilots in NATO.
WILD BLUE WONDER
Greece probably won’t take delivery of any F-35s until at least the second half of the decade but could get some second-hand versions sooner, all more advanced than what makes up the F-16 fleet in Turkey.
In the 2023 Global Firepower index, Greece and Turkey are listed as one of the major flashpoints in the world because of the tension between them and Erdogan constantly warning of an invasion and causes for war.
“Turkey was ranked more powerful than Greece in every category, including airpower. While that will unlikely change anytime soon, Athens could garner a clear qualitative advantage with these fighter procurements, the report said.
The Wall Street Journal earlier said that Turkey wants the F-16s and upgrades as a condition for Erdogan not to veto the NATO accession hopes of Sweden and Finland, and Biden acknowledged it.
“The content of the WSJ report is, at first, highly significant because it functions as an indication that Greece could arguably enjoy a qualitative military edge in the long-term,” George Tzogopoulos, a Senior Fellow at the Centre International de Formation Européenne (CIFE) told the site.
“A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable to envisage a situation where the U.S. might sell more advanced weapons systems (of every kind) to Greece – and not Turkey,” he also said.
“The fact that we are now analyzing the potential sale of F-35 to Greece and F-16 to Turkey sketches out the new, unprecedented trend that showcases some adjusting priorities of U.S. foreign policy in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he added.
“What matters is which country might maintain a qualitative military edge in the long-term, a discussion that goes beyond the discussed sales of F-16 and F-35,” he said. “This is the key question and not whether American-Turkish military cooperation continues,” he said.