The Turkish Air Force is set to train with Qatar’s French-made Dassault Rafale jets to counter the Greek military, which has increased its air force capabilities with newly acquired Rafale fighter aircraft from its ally France, Nordic Monitor has learned.
According to documents obtained from a Turkish parliamentary committee, one of the reasons for Turkey’s push to strike a military training agreement with Qatar was to familiarize its air force with the Rafale fighter jet’s capabilities in a bid to a perceived threat posed by the Greek Air Force in the Aegean and Mediterranean.
The military agreement, signed by the chiefs of staff of both countries in March 2021, allows the temporary deployment of up to 36 Qatari military aircraft and up to 250 personnel to Turkey.
“We can say that one of the reasons for the agreement between Turkey and Qatar is that Qatar would bring and deploy these Rafale aircraft, which it bought from France, to Turkey,” explained lawmaker Gülüstan Kiliç Koçyiğit while commenting on the articles of the agreement during deliberations in the Foreign Affairs Committee on November 30, 2021.
“Greece took a position to challenge us both in the eastern Mediterranean and on our borders by purchasing Rafale jets from France,” she added. Koçyiğit urged a diplomatic approach to settle differences rather than striking military deals with other countries, including Qatar.
Parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee records:Foreign_Relations_Commission_minutes
Ahmet Ünal Çeviköz, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and a former ambassador, hailed the agreement, describing it as a smart move by the Turkish military.
“Our air force inventories [of fighter jets] are different from each other. Of course, nobody knows this better than the Ministry of Defense. That’s why I sense a great intellect displayed by the officers here,” Çeviköz commented. He said it was obvious that the agreement would allow the Turkish Air Force to develop combat capability against Greece’s French-made jets in the event of a conflict in the future.
“So we will not bring the French planes used by Qatar to our territory and train their pilots, but rather we will receive training. The smart mind behind this should be applauded. I’m really happy about this,” he said.
It is not clear how this would play out and what the terms of the sales agreement between Qatar and France are concerning the deployment of Rafale jets to third countries and the training of pilots from those countries. It may very well be that Qatar may need the approval of France. The agreement requires that one Turkish pilot be present in each Qatari aircraft.
In a similar case in 2017 the US rejected a Turkish proposal to use Pakistani pilots to train Turkish pilots in F-16 fighter jets following the government’s purge of 680 of 1,350 pilots in the Turkish Air Force, which left it with a huge shortage of combat pilots.
Text of the Turkey-Qatar military agreement:
Although Turkey and France are NATO allies, the two countries have diverged on a number of foreign policy issues in recent years. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed French President Emanuel Macron on many occasions and viciously insulted him. In October 2020 he publicly said Macron needed mental treatment, and two month later he told Macron to cede the port city of Marseille to the Armenians if they love Armenians so much.
— Abdullah Bozkurt (@abdbozkurt) October 24, 2020
On December 21, 2020 Erdoğan advisor Saadet Oruç accused the French president of pedophilia and suggested that the beheading of a French teacher was orchestrated by the French authorities to hunt down Muslims because Muslims had become a power to reckon with and would soon overtake Christians in Europe.
#Turkey's President Chief advisor Saadat Oruc accuses #France President @EmmanuelMacron's wife Brigitte of pedophilia, suggests beheading of French teacher orchestrated to hunt down Muslims, predicts Muslims become a power to reckon with, will soon overtake Christians in Europe. pic.twitter.com/fJSsrt4gKq
— Abdullah Bozkurt (@abdbozkurt) December 24, 2020
In January 2021 Greece purchased 18 Rafale jets, 12 of them second hand, for 2.5 billion euros and added six more to the order in September 2021, bringing the total to 24 jets. Turkey is concerned that it may be on the verge of losing its air deterrence against Greece, especially after it was expelled from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program over Ankara’s purchase of S-400 long range missiles from Russia despite opposition from the US, a NATO ally.
Turkey is currently in talks with the US to purchase 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 jets and nearly 80 modernization kits to upgrade its F-16 fleet.
The Turkish-Qatari agreement states that in the event of a request from Turkey, Qatari aircraft will be able to carry Turkish ammunition, personnel and humanitarian aid inside and outside Turkey, demonstrating that the agreement is not limited to training. The agreement will remain in force for five years and will be extended automatically for successive periods of one year unless either party notifies the other of its intention to withdraw.
The Qatari Air Force currently has a fleet of French-made Mirage 2000 and Rafale aircraft, and it has also ordered 36 F-15Es from the US. Qatar also signed a similar pilot training agreement with Italy in November 2020, expressing its intent to purchase Leonardo T-346 jet trainers widely used by the Italian Air Force.
Turkey has since 2017 had a military base with around 3,000 troops in Qatar led by the Qatar-Turkey Combined Joint Force Command, established in 2015. Moreover, Turkey and Qatar signed a security protocol for the deployment of Turkish police units during the FIFA World Cup to be held in November-December 2022. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have several times demanded that Qatar shut down the Turkish base, which they claim threatens stability in the region.