How Turkey Ruined Its Own Air Force (Nothing to Do with the F-35)

Michael Peck

Key Point: You can't fly fighter jets if you have no pilots.

Fighter pilots aren't cheap. The U.S. Air Force estimates that training a new pilot to fly a plane like the F-35 costs $11 million. And that doesn't count the priceless experience of a veteran pilot who has been flying for years. That's why the U.S. Air Force is willing to offer half-million-dollar bonuses to retain experienced fighter pilots.

So a nation that throws its fighter pilots in jail is not just wasting money, but also an extremely valuable resource. 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.

The trouble began on July 15, 2016, when members of Turkey’s military “allegedly” launched a coup to topple the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The word allegedly is used for a reason. Despite being pros at overthrowing civilian governments (with four successful coups between 1960 and 1997), the 2016 effort was laughable. Soldiers attempted to isolate Istanbul by erecting roadblocks on the Bosporus Bridge—but only blocked the lanes in one direction. Youtube video showed soldiers with Leopard tanks surrendering to police and civilians. As Erdogan was flying back to Istanbul from vacation, two Turkish Air Force F-16s had his aircraft in their sights—but failed to shoot it down.

And the vaunted Turkish military was supposed to be NATO's Cold War southern bulwark against the Soviets? If so, it's a wonder that the Kremlin never seized the Bosporus.

All of which had skeptics wondering whether the coup was actually a false-flag operation by the Turkish government, aimed at providing (or provoking) an excuse to quash secular Turkish generals and covert followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. Either way, the coup fizzled in less than an hour, and then Erdogan's government took its revenge.

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