In a two-part agreement that could deliver more than $30 billion in orders to airframer Lockheed Martin, arms regulators at the US Department of State have approved the sale of fighter aircraft to NATO allies Turkey and Greece.

The separate deals cover 40 F-16V multi-role fighters for Ankara and 40 fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighters for Athens, with both aircraft produced by Lockheed.

The state department filed official approval for both fighter packages on 26 January.

“The proposed sale will allow Turkey to expand and modernise its fleet of F-16 aircraft, as older F-16 aircraft approach the end of their service life,” the department says.

F-16s Ballast Cannon

Source: US Air Force

Turkey finally received approval for 40 new F-16V fighters and 79 Block 70/72 modernisation kits after years of geopolitical wrangling

Turkey will also receive 79 modernisation kits for its older F-16Cs, which will covert the older fighters into the latest F-16V configuration. The total package is valued at $23 billion.

The country currently operates a fleet of 243 F-16C/Ds, according to Cirium data, 157 of which are assigned to front-line service.

Meanwhile, Greece will receive F-35A fighters for a price of $8.6 billion.

“The F-35 will offset the increasing obsolescence of other Hellenic air force aircraft such as the [McDonnell Douglas] F-4 and [Dassault] Mirage 2000,” the state department says. ”Greece will have no difficulty absorbing these articles and services into its armed forces.”

In both cases, arms control regulators say the new fighter aircraft will allow the two NATO members to modernise their respective air forces and better contribute to alliance security goals.

The simultaneous approval of the two long-stalled fighter sales is not a coincidence.

While Turkey first requested approval for the F-16V purchase in 2021, geopolitical disagreements between Washington and Ankara had stymied the proposal. The deadlocked worsened after Turkey opposed NATO membership for Sweden, which Washington supports, following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

At the 2023 NATO summit in Lithuania, the Biden Administration tied Sweden’s accession into NATO to approval of the F-16 sale – forcing Turkey’s hand. Aspiring alliance members require the unanimous consent of all existing signatories to the mutual defence treaty.

After some 18 months of delays, the Turkish parliament approved Sweden’s membership bid on 24 January, triggering advancement of the F-16 deal.

President Joe Biden requested congressional approval for the F-16 sale to Turkey later that day.


Source: US Air Force

Greece was approved for 40 F-35As, a move likely to anger Turkey, which was previously denied access to the stealth fighter 

Under the USA’s Foreign Military Sales framework, large or sensitive arms exports require the approval of both the state department and oversight committees in Congress.

However, key figures in Congress have previously expressed scepticism over the fighter sale to Turkey, and stated their preference for a deal with Greece. Athens in 2020 communicated its interest in purchasing advanced F-35 fighters from the USA.

Tensions between Turkey and Greece, both historic and ongoing, have created an additional barrier to either deal receiving approval.

The two countries went to war over territorial disputes following the post-First World War collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Despite being treaty-bound members of the NATO alliance, tensions between the two have continued to simmer in the present. 

The dispute centres on Turkish claims that Greece has stationed military forces on certain Aegean islands, in violation of peace treaties between the countries. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened Greece with military action as recently as 2022.

But in a grand bargain, Washington power players appear to have found a path forward on both sales – with Lockheed poised to secure significant new orders for both fighter types as a result.

In January, the airframer had an F-16 backlog of 135 aircraft in the latest Block 70/72 configuration, with jets bound for six different countries. The deal with Turkey would raise that to 175 aircraft.

Meanwhile, Greece is now poised to become the 18th member of global F-35 programme – which includes US-aligned forces across North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Turkey was famously booted from the F-35 programme by Washington, after Ankara opted to acquire a Russian air defence system.

Lockheed recently completed assembly on the 1,000th F-35, although the celebration of the milestone was blunted by an ongoing hold on deliveries, as Lockheed works to certify the latest configuration of advanced fighter.