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Turkey’s F-16 Purchase Would Halt F-4 Upgrades
By Burak Ege Bekdil, Ankara and Umit Enginsoy, Washington
Turkey is close to a decision to acquire a fresh fleet of F-16 fighter jets, a deal the government sees as a stopgap solution until new-generation fighters join its Air Force.
Military and procurement officials said a contract may emerge in the next few months if all technical and financial negotiations go smoothly with Bethesda, Md.-based jet maker Lockheed Martin.
“We are planning to acquire 30 new F-16 fighters, and talks are continuing,” a senior Turkish procurement official said.
Ankara wants to buy the F-16 Block 52+, one of Lockheed’s most advanced fighters, said procurement and military officials. The 30 fighters are expected to cost Turkey more than $1.5 billion.
Greece, Turkey’s traditional Aegean rival, last year signed a deal for 30 F-16 Block 52+ jets, slated for delivery in 2009.
One Turkish defense analyst suggested that the move would increase the chances that Ankara would choose the U.S.-led F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) over the Eurofighter Typhoon as its next-generation combat jet. But Turkish procurement officials, who have said that either or both could be purchased, declined to comment further.
Turkey has said it would decide by year’s end whether to join the JSF’s production phase. Ankara already has invested $175 million in the JSF’s development.
The F-16 deal would put on hold a $480 million effort to upgrade 48 Vietnam War-era F-4E Phantom fighters, or at least limit the upgrades and perform them all locally, one procurement official said. “The [F-4E] program already is on hold,” he said. “We’ve downgraded its priority ranking. If we bought new F-16s, we might minimize its scope.”
The current plan calls for the upgrades to be performed by the state-owned Tusas Aerospace Industries (TAI). TAI was the co-manufacturer of F-16s in the 1990s under a contract with Lockheed. But the bulk of the money would go to Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) in technology-transfer fees and licenses.
Under a 1997 contract, IAI has been leading a joint effort to upgrade 54 U.S.-made F-4Es. Although the original contract was worth some $670 million, the project’s actual cost has exceeded $1 billion, Turkish procurement officials say. The F-4 modernization was to be a stopgap solution until the acquisition of the JSF or the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Also see: <a href="news_article1905.html">Turkey close to buying 30 new block 52+ F-16s</a>