Undeterred by being removed from the F-35 Lightning II project for buying Russian military equipment, Turkey has shifted focus towards extending service life of its F-16 jets.
“Structural upgrades of the F-16 Block 30 aircraft continue. In the project, 1,200-1,500 pieces of structural parts per aircraft are being refurbished. Repair, replacement and body reinforcement work is being carried out where necessary,” the head of the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), Ismail Demir, tweeted on Sunday.
The U.S. kicked Ankara out of F-35 project after the latter purchased S-400 missile systems from Russia for $2.5 billion. Sanctions under CAATSA were also slapped for signing the multi-billion dollar contract.
Washington argues the systems would allow Russia to covertly obtain classified details on the F-35 jets and is incompatible with NATO systems. Turkey however, insists that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance. Three NATO members – Greece, Slovakia and Bulgaria – are in possession of S-300 defense systems.
Demir added that with the F-16 upgrade project aims to increase the lifetime of F-16 aircraft from 8,000 hours to 12,000 hours. Modernization of these jets will buy Turkey some time while it develops its own TF-X jet under National Combat Aircraft (MMU) program. The new aircraft is expected to perform its maiden flight using a domestic engine in 2029.