Report: US refuses to send F-16 training pilots to Turkey

The United States (US) has refused to send F-16 warplane trainers to Turkey after Ankara requested them in order to fill the gap in the number of Turkish jet pilots, reported by Hurriyet daily on Wednesday.

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) has been trying to increase the number of its jet pilots after the Air Forces were hit by massive dismissals carried out following a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The government has claimed a significant number of pilots in Turkish Air Forces (THK) are alleged followers of the Gülen movement and 1,752 personnel of THK were dismissed with state of emergency decrees.

According to official numbers, between 300 and 350 of those dismissed were warplane pilots and as a result the ratio of number of seats and the number of pilots decreased to 1/0.8, when it should be 1/1.5.  The F-16 jets of American firm Lockheed Martin constitute a majority of Turkey’s warplane fleet with 240 jets.  The government, which has been focused on measures that would increase the number of jet pilots, is searching for F-16 trainers abroad.

Pakistan was the only country to accept Turkey’s request. However, the US objected to Pakistan sending F-16 jet pilot trainers to Turkey, based on the agreement that US-origin equipment’s purchase, sale, maintenance and training between third countries needed approval from Washington.

According to the report by Hurriyet daily news, upon the prevention of Pakistani trainers from coming to Turkey, Ankara renewed its request from the US. However, the Pentagon has once again rejected Ankara’s request, saying “there is no program regarding training pilots abroad.” “If you send your F-16 pilots to the US, we can train them here,” the US response read, while Ankara insisted on pilots receiving treatment in the bases in Turkey and in their own geographical conditions.

The US had rejected a Turkish proposal to use Pakistani pilots for training Turkish pilots for F-16 fighters. According to an article by Mehmet Acet, the government purged 680 of 1,350 pilots in the Turkish Air Forces following a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. In order to compensate for the lack of pilots, the government called on former pilots who opted to work in the private sector after 10 years of service in the air forces to return to the military. But only 50 pilots responded to the call. As a solution, the government inserted an article in a recently issued state of emergency decree which stipulates that pilots, including former pilots, serve 18 years in the air forces before going to the private sector.

“Hence, it is expected that 200 pilots including 100 F-16 pilots who left the air forces before completing 18 years in the military will return to the military,” said Acet in his article published in the Yeni Şafak daily.

Using a general as a source, Acet said in the meantime the Turkish Air Forces asked Pakistan to send three F-16 pilots to train Turkish pilots. Although Pakistan welcomed the Turkish request, the US refused to allow Ankara to go with Pakistani trainers. According to an F16 purchase agreement between Turkey and the United States, the US must give permission for any third party involvement in the use of the aircraft.

According to Acet, the general used a Turkish idiom in response to Washington’s refusal, saying, “This means you fall down where you are.”

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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