Turkey F-16 sale to proceed after Senate vote

by Tommy Grant

The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly voted 13-79 against a resolution that would have blocked a $23 billion F-16 sale to Turkey that the Biden administration approved last month.

Turkey has sought to lock down the sale, which includes 40 new F-16s made by Lockheed Martin as well as modernization kits for 79 fighter jets in its current fleet, for several years. The State Department finally approved the sale when Turkey ratified Sweden’s NATO membership after stalling for more than a year.

Sen Rand Paul, R-Ky., on Thursday forced the vote on the resolution to block the sale, citing “significant human rights issues, arbitrary killings, suspicious deaths of person in custody, torture, arbitrary arrests and continued detention of tens of thousands of persons.”

“I also remain deeply concerned about the negative strategic implications of this proposed sale, given Turkey’s reckless military actions in recent years,” Paul said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote.

Paul noted that a U.S. F-16 shot down a Turkish drone in October in northeast Syria, where American troops back Kurdish-majority forces Ankara considers a terrorist organization. He also pointed to Turkey’s deployment of F-16s to Azerbaijan in 2020 during its war with Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Ben Cardin, D-Md., defended the sale on the floor after greenlighting it last month.

“I consulted closely with the highest levels of the Biden administration about this transaction over several months,” said Cardin. “I believe they share my concerns, and I believe we are making progress.”

Cardin argued Russia’s invasion of Ukraine presented a strategic imperative for Sweden’s NATO accession as well as the need to modernize Turkey’s capabilities within the alliance. He said the sale would upgrade Turkey’s “aging F-16 fleet to a more capable model, a model that is compatible with the United States.”

“Turkey is key to the defense of the southern flank of NATO,” said Cardin. “It is host to a major U.S. military presence, and Turkey’s F-16 fleet contributes to NATO, including in the Black Sea, which is critical to our national security.”

The State Department also approved an $8.6 billion sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to Greece last month at the same time it greenlit Turkey’s F-16 purchase.

The U.S. expelled Turkey from the F-35 co-production program in 2019 over Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 missile defense system due to fears Moscow could use its advanced radar system to spy on the stealth fighter jets.

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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