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US agrees to upgrade Turkey's F-16 aircraft despite NATO row over Sweden accession

An F-16 aircraft of the Turkish Stars aerobatic team of the Turkish Air Force performs during Teknofest airshow in Istanbul, Turkey September 20, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

The United States has agreed to upgrade Turkey's F-16 aircraft despite a row with Ankara over Sweden joining NATO.

On Monday, the US State Department approved the sale of software to Turkey to update the avionics of its estimated 200-strong F-16 fleet.

The State Department said the upgrade includes improvements in communications and security programs like the ground avoidance system.

It called the upgrade of the aircraft, which have been in service for more than 35 years, an “interoperability and basic safety-of-flight issue” both for Turkey as well as its allies. 

Turkey also wants to buy 40 new F-16s from the US, but some in the US Congress oppose the sale over a row between Turkey, Finland and Sweden over the two Nordic countries' NATO membership.

Turkey agreed to Finland's ascension to NATO earlier this month.

Ankara's critics on the Capitol Hill say the sale of F-16s should be postponed until Turkey approves NATO membership for Sweden.

However, Turkey has accused Sweden of giving a safe haven to extremist forces linked to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group.

In the meantime, NATO requires unanimous approval to admit new members.

Prior to the decision to purchase more F-16s, Ankara wanted to purchase next-generation US fighters.

Turkey had planned to purchase the newer F-35 jet fighter planes from the United States. The US, however, pulled out of the F-35 aircraft deal between Washington and Ankara after Turkey announced its decision to purchase the Russian S-400 air-defense system.

In a controversial move against its NATO ally, the US even imposed sanctions on Turkey’s defense industry over the S-400 missile purchase.

Despite Washington's strong opposition to Ankara’s acquisition of the advanced air defense units, Turkey proceeded with the deal to purchase the Russian S-400 defense system.

In an interview with CBS News, taped on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2021, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pointed out that Washington’s refusal to sell Turkey the Patriot system as an alternative had prompted Ankara to purchase the Russian system instead.

Turkey became the first NATO member state to purchase the Russian S-400 air defense missile system.

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