Turkey sought Eurofighters after uncertainty over U.S. F-16 buy -source

By Huseyin Hayatsever and Ece Toksabay

ANKARA (Reuters) -Turkey began talks with European states on buying 40 Eurofighter Typhoon jets after recognising that its request for F-16 jets from the United States might not work out, a Turkish defence ministry source said on Thursday.

Defence Minister Yasar Guler said last week that Turkey was in talks with Britain and Spain to buy Typhoons, though Germany objected to the idea.

Turkey wants to buy the most advanced, newly built version of the Eurofighter, the source said. Its defence ministry and the British Embassy in Ankara said Guler discussed the issue with his British counterpart Grant Shapps in Ankara on Thursday.

Turkey a NATO member, asked in October 2021 to buy 40 Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 fighters and 79 modernisation kits for its existing warplanes.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration backs the $20-billion sale, but there have been objections in the U.S. Congress over Turkey’s delaying of NATO enlargement to bring in Sweden, and over its human rights record.

Turkey has informed NATO that the ratification of Sweden’s membership bid will not be completed by the alliance’s foreign ministers meeting next week, further complicating matters.

“Turkish air forces are in need of new aircraft. Our first choice is F-16s… But considering the possibility that we might not get a positive response in this prolonged process, the Eurofighter Typhoon jets are the most suitable alternatives to F-16s,” the source said.

“The (officials from) the UK say that they could help convince Germany to back down from their objections.”

In a statement, Turkey’s defence ministry quoted Guler as saying Ankara wanted to further develop cooperation with Britain “in many areas, namely our national combat aircraft KAAN and new issues like the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets”.

It also cited Shapps as saying that the issue of procuring the jets was discussed in the meeting, without elaborating.

The British Embassy in Ankara said the two ministers had also inked a statement of intent on defence cooperation, which would “see closer collaboration between both countries’ defence industries” and other areas.

The Eurofighter Typhoon jets are built by a consortium of Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain, represented by Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo.

“For regional power balances, Turkey’s need for a new technology fighter jet is no secret,” defence analyst Tayfun Ozberk said. “In this context, the move to acquire the Eurofighters may have been made to pressure the Biden administration to persuade the Congress for the sale of F-16s as soon as possible.”

The Typhoons are “really the last chance to keep Turkey in the Western defence industry”, said Serhat Guvenc, an international relations professor at Kadir Has University.

“Acquiring the Eurofighter could create some operational issues as the Turkish air force operates in line with the American system. However, ultimately, the Eurofighter is a joint production of NATO members. Therefore, there shouldn’t be an interoperability problem.”

(Reporting by Huseyin Hayatsever and Ece Toksabay; editing by Jonathan Spicer, William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)