The Turkish government’s first priority is to be included in the F-35 next-generation fighter jet development program, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Spokesman İbrahim Kalın told reporters on Thursday.
“If the F-35s cannot be resolved, we do not have the luxury to lose any time, we may go the route of compensation,” Kalın said, regarding Turkey’s efforts to procure F-16 fighter jets as a second option.
Last week Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the F-35s that Turkey had already paid for should be delivered, or the United States should return the $1.4 billion Turkey paid, or provide another option in their stead.
Kalın said technical committees from both countries had begun talks for the modernisation of Turkey’s existing F-16 fleet.
The presidential spokesman rejected rumours that Turkey’s Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems, which triggered the F-35 crisis with the United States to begin with, had not been moved to the İncirlik Air Base in southeast Turkey, where U.S. troops are stationed.
The United States suspended Turkey from the F-35 programme in 2019, following Ankara’s acquisition of the S-400s and later imposed sanctions on the country’s defence industry over the Russian weapons systems. Washington maintains that the S-400s are incompatible with NATO architecture and pose a security threat.
Kalın also spoke on the possibility of another cross-border operation into Syria.
“We could go suddenly one night, our president always says. We are already in the field in Syria,” Kalın said. “The mandate was renewed, and our priority is to build border security beyond our borders.”