Turkey, US agree to upgrade F-16 fleet
ANKARA (AP) – The United States and Turkey have agreed to upgrade Turkey’s fleet of F-16 warplanes, the Turkish defense minister and the US ambassador announced yesterday. The statement comes a day after Turkey’s Cabinet approved a longstanding US request to allow the American military to fly more supplies into Iraq and Afghanistan from a strategic airbase in southern Turkey. The modernization plan will cost Turkey $1.1 billion (850 million euros) and will be carried out by US aircraft maker Lockheed-Martin in Turkey. It is to start this summer and will involve 217 F-16s. «We’re grateful for this opportunity, and I think it is an indication of the strength of our military-to-military and defense industry relationship,» US Ambassador Eric Edelman told a joint news conference with Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul. «I hope it is a harbinger of more to come in the future,» Edelman said. However, he refrained from commenting on the expanded use of Incirlik air base during the news conference. The United States had made the request for the base’s use in June; Turkey’s Cabinet approved it after months of delay on Monday. The Turkish decision on Incirlik was a step toward improving relations with the United States that were strained when Turkey refused to allow US troops to invade Iraq from Turkish territory in March 2003. Incirlik, located on the outskirts of the southern city of Adana, is currently home to some 10 US refueling aircraft used to support operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are about 1,400 US airmen at the base. The United States was seeking permission to establish an expanded logistics hub at Incirlik to be able to fly large civilian cargo flights to the base and redistribute the cargo to military aircraft bound for Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington was also asking for blanket clearance for all cargo flights. Turkey has insisted in the past that the United States had to get separate permission for each flight. Incirlik is about 966km (600 miles) from the Iraq border and 3,220km (2,000 miles) west of Afghanistan.