Biden to Discuss With Erdogan the Sale of F-16 Jets to Turkey

US President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will discuss the sale of dozens of new F-16 warplanes to modernize Turkey’s fleet on the sidelines of a NATO summit.

The meeting later on Wednesday in Madrid comes after Erdogan dropped his opposition to Swedish and Finnish bids to join NATO, bringing the alliance one step closer to bolstering its eastern front with Russia. That move appears to have won him US backing to strengthen the air force of Turkey, the second-largest military force in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“The US Department of Defense fully supports Turkey’s modernization plans for its F-16 fleet,” Celeste Wallander, assistant US defense secretary, told reporters. “These plans are in the works and they need to be worked through our contracting processes, but the United States supports Turkey’s modernization of its fighter fleet, because that is the contribution to NATO security and therefore American security.”

Earlier, both the US and Turkey ruled out any bargaining on long-standing requests like F-16 fighter jets in exchange for allowing Sweden and Finland to begin the process of joining the alliance.

The Turkish leader’s decision to let the Nordics’ NATO bids proceed paved the way for a formal meeting with the US president, according to a senior Biden administration official. The two leaders are expected to discuss a full range of issues, the official said, which includes Turkey’s long-standing defense requests.

Erdogan is now seeking to capitalize on a relatively positive atmosphere in relations with NATO and the US after a period of frosty ties over his government’s purchase of advanced Russian air defenses.

That led the Pentagon to oust Turkey from the program to buy — and help build — Lockheed Martin Corp.’s more advanced F-35 fighter in 2019 on the grounds that Russian S-400 missile systems might be used to gather intelligence on the stealth jet.

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.

Turkey hopes to eventually develop its own jets but meantime is overdue to retire its F-4 jets and wants to upgrade its F-16 fleet as a stopgap measure. The F-16 deal is potentially worth $6 billion, but requires full support of Biden’s administration to win approval of the Congress for the sale.

The Biden administration in May asked Congress to approve a separate sale of weapons and equipment upgrades to Turkey’s fleet of American-made F-16 fighter jets which is expected to exceed $500 million. 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.

The Turkish government has sought a middle ground toward the war in Ukraine, refraining 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.

However, it has supplied Kyiv with lethal Turkish-made armed drones and shut its straits and air space to Russian military ships and aircraft.