Turkey's purge of its own F-16 pilots severely crippled military capabilities - analyst

The Turkish government’s dismissal of hundreds of F-16 pilots following a failed military coup attempt in 2016 has critically damaged its military capabilities and is behind Turkey's interest in air defence systems, defence analyst Michael Peck wrote for the National Interest on Monday.

“Fighter pilots aren't cheap,” Peck said. 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.

“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 coup attempt, the Turkish government dismissed thousands of military personnel for links to the Gülen movement, which Ankara accuses of carrying out the coup attempt.

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, he 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, the analyst 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.

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