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Erdogan says Turkey in talks with Washington to buy F-16s

Turkey was excluded from the F-35 programme over its purchase of Russia's S-400 missile defence system
A General Dynamics F-16 Solo Turk aerial aerobatic aircraft during the 5th Sivrihisar Airshow in Eskisehir, Turkey, on 13 September 2020 (AFP/file photo)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that his government is in talks with Washington to buy F-16 fighters after being excluded from the F-35 programme over its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system.

A senior Turkish official told a local newspaper earlier this month that Turkey could ask the US to reuse the money Ankara has already paid for the F-35 fighter jets programme to purchase and modernise F-16 jets.

Turkey has paid $1.4bn for the development and production of fifth generation F-35 fighter jets over the years. However, Ankara was ejected from the consortium in 2019 following its purchase of the S-400s, with Washington alleging that it could steal sensitive technology.

Turkey sent a letter of request on 40 F-16s and 80 modernisation kits to Washington last month, which is believed to have a $6bn price tag. The move surprised many since there is a significant amount of ongoing animosity in the US congress towards Ankara for its regional policies, and Turkey is currently subject to US CAATSA sanctions following its S-400 purchase.

Erdogan told reporters on Sunday that the F-16 purchase is "of course linked to the F-35s issue", according to AFP. He explained that Washington had offered to sell F-16s to Turkey to upgrade its air force fleet. 

"We have said we'll take whatever step is needed to meet our country's defence needs," Erdogan said, adding that Turkey was working to modernise its warplane fleet. 

Erdogan last month said he hoped to talk about the F-35 dossier with his US counterpart Joe Biden at the G20 meeting in Rome later in October.

On Sunday, he reiterated that  Washington needed to compensate Turkey for its $1.4bn payment. 

"We raised this issue in our talks. We attach importance to dialogue for a solution to this problem," he said.

"We are working to further develop our fleet from the modernisation of the F-16s in our possession to new additional F-16 purchases," he added.