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Defence & Arms Last Updated: Jun 27, 2022 - 12:20:40 PM

The Purchase of F-16s: A Feasible but Thorny Turkish Mission in the US
By Hasan Selim Özertem, EDM 24/6/22 https://jamestown.org/program/the-purchase-of-f-16s-a-feasible-but-thorny-turkish-mission-in-the-us/
Jun 26, 2022 - 11:18:23 AM

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Buying S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia has become one of the main sources of dispute between Washington and Ankara. As a result of that purchase, Turkey was removed from the F-35 stealth jet fighter program in 2019; and the following year, it fell under sanctions included in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Apart from being a prospective buyer of the United States’ most advanced fighter jet, Turkey was one of the F-35 project’s original international partners. Turkish companies had a sizeable stake, having invested an estimated $10 billion into the program. This amount could almost cover the cost of the 100 planes Turkey had planned to procure from Lockheed Martin, the main US developer of the F-35. Following its expulsion, Turkey lost access to one of the most prestigious high-technology projects in the transatlantic alliance and also forfeited its $1.4 billion advance payment. Still, the most important impact of having been frozen out of the program was the disruption of Turkey’s plans to modernize its air fleet starting in the early 2020s.

As an alternative, Ankara decided to buy 40 fourth-generation F-16 multi-role fighters and 80 modernization kits. Last autumn, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said, “We can supply most of our needs from local suppliers. We need to supply some part of our needs from abroad. In this regard, we need to modernize our F-16s. We have started a technical process to get Block 70 “Viper” F-16s and modernize some of our aircraft from our strategic ally and friend, the US. The stronger that Turkey and the Turkish Armed Forces are, the stronger NATO’s [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] defense will be” (Anadolu Agency, October 23, 2021).

The block 70/72 models of the F-16 are designed to operate for 12,000 hours, up until the year 2060. Moreover, they have an APG-83 AESA radar system, which is a more developed version of the radar found on the Block 50/52 models. Thus, the procurement of new F-16s can help Turkey orchestrate its transition period during the 2020s while still upgrading the capabilities of its fleet.

Starting from the 2020s, it was envisioned that F-35s and F-16s would form the backbone of the Turkish Air Force. The defense manufacturer Turkish Aerospace (TUSAŞ) has been working on several modernization projects to extend the service period of Turkey’s existing F-16s since 2006. After being expelled from the F-35 program, the procurement of new F-16s was recognized as the second-best alternative because Turkey already has a well-functioning logistical infrastructure for this platform.

The orchestration of an air force’s logistics is of utmost importance to the fleet’s sustainability and strength. Even though Turkey is working on an indigenous fifth-generation fighter jet project (TF-X)—itself a difficult target—the expulsion from the F-35 program created a logistical challenge for the Turkish Air Force. Ankara needs to resolve this problem with a concrete plan.

The cost of 40 F-16s and 80 modernization kits is estimated at $6 billion–10 billion. In other words, Turkey has to find extra money in the budget, even if Ankara can take back the $1.4 billion it originally spent as a down payment on the F-35s. Still, modernizing the Turkish Air Force is critical considering Turkey’s aging fleet and changing dynamics in the region. Greece’s efforts to modernize its own air fleet with F-35s and French Rafales have the potential to change the balance of power in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. For a long time, Washington was cautious about upsetting the balance between Ankara and Athens. Beyond this parameter, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine even more thoroughly disrupted the dynamics in the region. Consequently, there is now a need to discuss the modernization of the Turkish fleet from a broader regional security perspective.

Acknowledging this reality, the US State Department sent a letter to Congress in March in support of Turkey’s bid for the F-16s. While praising Ankara’s role in the Russo-Ukrainian war, the letter also underlined the US and NATO alliance’s interests in an F-16 sale. However, the project needs to be approved by Congress before moving forward (Hurriyet Daily News, April 7).

Turkey was expelled from the F-35 project, due to the potential risks posed by the Russian-built S-400s to the program’s security. It should be noted that Turkey’s ownership of F-16s was not articulated as a matter of concern in this vein. In other words, from a technical perspective, the sale of F-16s is a reasonable choice for the US. If Washington abstains from selling the Vipers to Turkey, this would push Turkey to reconsider other alternatives, despite the potential logistical risks of this decision. Moreover, this would be another negative signal for bilateral relations, after the imposition of the sanctions.

Turkey has long been one of NATO’s main burden-sharers in various Alliance operations. The essence of the modernization of the Turkish air fleet is, thus, critical to preserving this status in the future. Defense Minister Akar is optimistic about continued sustainable cooperation. Recently, he said, “We believe that the US will supply Turkey’s needs [F-16s]. I believe this issue will not be disregarded by the US administration considering the collective defense and interoperability [dimensions]. The meetings with members of Congress were positive and laid a favorable foundation to continue the dialogue” (Milliyet, June 1).

It seems Turkey wants to compartmentalize the defense dialogue and continue its cooperation with the US while opening new channels with Russia. The S-400s, therefore, remain an unresolved issue between the Washington and Ankara. Turkish Defense Industries President İsmail Demir stated that “the agreement with Russia is composed of the delivery of two packages. The first package has arrived, and the parties had agreed on technology transfer and co-production for the second package. The second delivery was delayed due to prolonged negotiations between Russia and Turkey” (TRT Haber, April 26). Demir’s statements can be read as a signal that S-400s will continue to occupy the agenda with Moscow in the future.

The war in Ukraine opened a window of opportunity for a positive agenda between the US and Turkey. However, the increasing tensions between Greece and Turkey (Al-Monitor, June 15, 2022; see EDM, May 31, 2019), Turkey’s resistance to Sweden and Finland’s NATO bid, and Ankara's plans to start a cross-border operation in Syria have already started to once again tarnish Turkey’s image in Congress. Despite the Turkish desire to stimulate the process to obtain new F-16s, these above factors can all hinder Ankara’s initiative in the corridors of Washington.

Can Russia Repeat the ‘Crimea Scenario’ in Ukraine’s Kherson Region?

Vadim Shtepa

As a result of its full-scale re-invasion of Ukraine launched on February 24, Russia presently occupies most of Kherson Oblast, a southern region with a million inhabitants that borders on Crimea. In fact, Russian troops captured Kherson with a strike from the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow illegally annexed back in 2014. Now, some observers predict that Kherson will soon undergo the same fate that Crimea did eight years earlier—even while the Moscow-backed quasi-statelets of Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” have yet to be officially admitted into the Russian Federation.

The strategic importance of the Kherson region lies in the fact that it physically links the Crimean Peninsula with the continent. So without control over Kherson, Ukraine’s objective of “de-occupying Crimea” becomes that much less realistic. In addition, Crimea is vitally dependent on Kherson Oblast for its water: the North Crimean Canal, which carries fresh water from the Dnieper River to the peninsula, originates there. The blocking of this canal in 2014 by the Ukrainian authorities caused numerous problems for annexed Crimea, and today Russia is striving to further secure its “returned” territories. But this necessitates an expansion of the 2014 annexation. Finally, the Kherson region is an important springboard for a possible strike on Odesa, Russian control of which would finally cut Ukraine entirely off from the Black Sea.

Russia is justifying plans to annex this region with historical arguments, reaching back beyond the Soviet era to the tsarist period. The doctrine of “historical Russia,” which has become popular with Russian propagandists, pointedly conflates the modern-day Russian Federation with the Russian Empire of the 18th–early 20th centuries. It considers the borders of the historical Russian entity as “ours” and ignores all nation-state changes recognized by international law that occurred in the post-tsarist and post-Soviet eras.

In 1775, Empress Catherine II ordered the liquidation of the self-governing center of the Ukrainian Cossacks—the Zaporozhian Sich. After that, the large Black Sea region was named “Novorossiya” (“New Russia”), and Kherson, founded in 1778, with its shipyard, was even considered a “southern St. Petersburg” (Expert.ru, June 5). It should be noted that the term “Novorossiya,” which deliberately connoted an expansion of Russian territories, was revived by Moscow propaganda in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea and the creation of the “people’s republics” in Donbas.

War-time visits of high-ranking Moscow officials to Kherson and other occupied Ukrainian regions denote the symbolic importance of their capture. “Russia has come here forever,” said Andrei Turchak, the head of the ruling United Russia party (RIA Novosti, May 6). Kherson, as well as Melitopol and Berdyansk (captured cities in neighboring Zaporizhzhia Oblast), were also visited by Sergei Kiriyenko, the de facto leader of the Russian presidential administration (RIA Novosti, June 8). According to some insider sources, Kiriyenko is working on creating a positive propaganda image of “Russia after the war,” presumably hoping that the conflict will end in a victory for the Kremlin (Meduza, June 8).

But Moscow-based analysts clearly overestimated the “pro-Russian” sentiments of the local population before the 2022 invasion, likely assuming that, like in Crimea in 2014, the majority Russian-speaking population had been subjected to massive propaganda indoctrination via Moscow TV channels for years. However, in Kherson, local residents expressed no joy about “returning to their native harbor.” And while most of them are, in fact, Russian-speaking, they tended to strongly associate themselves politically with Ukraine.

Since the opening days of the occupation of Kherson and neighboring cities, mass protest rallies have continued there, which Russian troops have sometimes had to disperse using firearms (Region.Expert, June 13). In Kherson, in fact, a dual power has arisen. The regional administration is headed by collaborators appointed by the occupying forces, who want to symbolically consolidate Russian power by erecting a monument to Tsar Catherine II (Pravda.com.ua, June 18). Whereas, the mayor of the city remains Igor Kolykhayev, elected in 2020; he continues to manage the municipal economy and says Kherson residents are awaiting liberation by Ukrainian troops (RBC, May 23).

As for everyday life, the situation in Kherson is approaching a humanitarian catastrophe. All Ukrainian commercial networks, banks and pharmacies are closed. Public utilities and social services do not work. Almost all trade is carried out in street markets. However, despite the invaders’ desire to introduce the Russian ruble, hryvnia banknotes remains in circulation, and even electronic payments using the Ukrainian banking system go through. Ukrainian communication systems have also proven to be surprisingly stable, and attempts by the occupiers to switch to Russian standards are failing. But Russian censorship is already at work (see EDM, June 23), turning into outright terror: hundreds of people dissatisfied with the occupation are being detained and kidnapped (Postimees.ee, June 16). Russian forces have set up “filtration camps” and rob local residents trying to flee to territories controlled by the Ukrainian army (Svoboda.org, June 17).

However, many Kherson residents and locals of other occupied cities are not ready to tolerate this outrage and are switching to the tactics of guerilla resistance (Apostrophe.ua, June 13). Partisan activities are on the rise (The Economist, June 5; see EDM, May 2), including the attempted assassination of the Russian-appointed head of the regional Kherson prison system (Svoboda.org, June 18).

Perhaps this unexpected popular rebuff to the occupation forced the collaborating authorities into slowing down their plans to hold a referendum on incorporating the occupied regions into Russia. Unlike the Crimean referendum in March 2014, which the invaders tried to hold as quickly as possible in an attempt to legitimize the annexation, today the Kherson occupation administration says that the issue of a referendum “is not on the agenda” (RIA Novosti, June 4). In a clear indication of how unpopular the idea of joining Russia is among Kherson residents: an attempt to distribute Russian passports attracted only 23 takers, that is, only the collaborating officials themselves (Svoboda.org, June 11). Undoubtedly, any eventual referendum in Kherson will be as rigged as the one held in Crimea; and in preparation, the occupiers have already stolen regional voter lists (TSN, June 20).

Mass deliveries of modern weapons to the defending Ukrainian army are capable of overcoming this expanding tragedy. However, although the Lend-Lease program in the United States has been approved, sufficiently large deliveries have not yet begun (Interfax, June 18). During World War II, US Lend-Lease helped the Soviet Union withstand the invasion of Nazi Germany. But today, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, in an effort to restore the empire and destroy the independence of neighboring countries, has itself become reminiscent of its historical foe.

Source:Ocnus.net 2022

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