Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the US proposed the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey after it had removed Ankara from the F-35 program in retaliation for Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense system.
"There is the payment of $1.4 billion we have made for the F-35s and the US had such a proposal in return for these payments," Erdogan told reporters at Istanbul airport before departing for a trip to West Africa on Sunday.
In 2019, the US excluded Turkey from NATO’s F-35 stealth fighter jet program after Ankara acquired Russia’s S-400s in defiance of threats of sanctions from Washington.
"We said let's take whatever steps are needed to be taken to meet the defense needs of our country," Erdogan said on Sunday.
He noted that Turkey was working to further develop its warplane fleet “from the modernization of the F-16s in our possession to new additional F-16 purchases”.
The F-16 sales require the approval of US Congress, where anti-Turkey sentiments are on the rise.
Turkey and the United States, both NATO members, have been at loggerheads over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian systems, which the US alleges are not compatible with the military hardware owned by the other countries of the Western military alliance.
Washington also alleges that the S-400 defense systems pose a threat to the American Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets.
Last month, Erdogan stressed that Ankara still planned to buy a second batch of S-400s from Russia.
Turkey seeks to boost its air defense, particularly after Washington decided in 2015 to withdraw its Patriot surface-to-air missile system from the Turkish border with Syria, a move that weakened Turkey’s air defense.
Before turning to Russia, the Turkish military reportedly walked out of a $3.4-billion contract for a similar Chinese system. The withdrawal took place under purported pressure from Washington.