Turkey’s air force can barely fly its F-16s - analyst

The Turkish government’s crackdown on the country’s military following a failed coup attempt in 2016 has reached such an extent that Turkey’s air force can barely fly its F-16 jets, defence and historical writer Michael Peck said.

“Fighter pilots aren't cheap,” Peck said in the National Interest on Thursday. According to the U.S. Air Force estimates, training a new pilot to fly a plane like the F-35 costs $11 million, while the years of experience of a veteran pilot is priceless, he said.

“So a nation that throws its fighter pilots in jail is not just wasting money, but also an extremely valuable resource,” Peck said. “Yet in the name of politics, Turkey's government has purged its air force so badly that it can barely fly its F-16 fighters.”

Following the failed putsch, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government started taking revenge by quashing both secular generals and military personnel linked to the Gülen movement, which Ankara accuses of carrying out the coup attempt, Peck said. 

With more than 300 hundred pilots dismissed, the Turkish government started looking overseas to make up the shortfall, Peck said. But, the United States declined Turkey’s request to send over flight instructors. Turkey then sought assistance from Pakistan, which also flies F-16s, but that did not work, and in desperation the government issued a decree in 2017 forcing 330 former pilots to return to the air force by threatening them with the revocation of their civil pilot licenses, Peck said citing an Atlantic Council report

The weakening air force might also be the reason why Turkey suddenly got very interested in acquiring missile systems, Peck said. Turkey purchased Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems despite Washington’s concerns and sanctions threats. Ankara also signed an agreement with Franco-Italian missile maker Eurosam to develop a long-range anti-aircraft missile.