The Reagan administration disappointed Turkey's high hopes during its first two years by failing to increase military aid, but it has finally bitten the bullet.
In asking Congress to approve $930 million in military and economic aid for Turkey in 1984, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger termed the country ''one of our most urgent priorities.'' He also requested a supplemental appropriation of $120 ($65 military and $55 economic) million for 1983. Congress has already voted $645 ($400 military and $245 economic) million for Turkey in the current year.
A senior US officer just returned from Turkey tells of Turkish soldiers he has seen making do with World War II equipment, operating Korean-war-vintage tanks, and pilots flying aircraft which - as one reporter put it - were ''built before these Turkish Air Force men were born.''
''Turkey needs help and knows what to do with it. It is one of the best military bargains we have anywhere in the world,'' this military aid specialist concludes.
Turkish President Kenan Evren welcomes the administration's aid proposals, but sees them as only a beginning. ''To satisfy the needs of the Turkish armed forces would require at least $1 billion a year in military aid alone over 10 years,'' he calculates.
During the Vietnam war, Turkey, which has always had the largest armed forces in NATO after the US, fell behind in US priority. In 1974, when some of the lag was to be made up, Turkey invaded Cyprus and Congress imposed an arms embargo. Though the embargo was lifted in 1978, aid levels stayed low, in part because of the Greek lobby. Turkey has never made a good start at real military modernization.
What are Turkey's most urgent needs?
''Almost everything,'' says Gen. Necdet Oztorun, deputy chief of the general staff. ''Modern fighter aircraft, helicopters, improved tanks, antitank weapons, better communications, modern naval vessels, air defense.''
US military officers who have served in Turkey point out that low aid levels in recent years have forced the Turks to put too much money into keeping old equipment running.
''It's like running a taxi service with a fleet of 30-year-old vehicles - you have to have the spare parts hand-made or hunt them up in junkyards,'' says one officer. ''This is an odd way to support an ally who faces strong Soviet and Bulgarian forces on two separate fronts and has countries in a state of war and turmoil to its south and east.''
The US recently approved the sale by Egypt of 35 F-4E fighter-bombers to Turkey which Turkey will buy with its own funds. But the Turkish Air Force wants to start on a program for acquiring - perhaps even helping to manufacture - modern aircraft that will ensure effective air defense in the 1990s. Turkish airfields that the US is modernizing with NATO infrastructure funds still lack radar.
The issue is complicated by an impasse between Greece and the US over military aid. Greek lobby activists in the past have been willing to take smaller allocations in military aid if US aid for Turkey, their antagonistic neighbor, were held down. But when the Reagan administration sought to increase Turkey's 1984 military aid by over 60 percent and hold Greece's appropriation at area. The administration has proposed that the US add $220 million to its military aid to Greece in 1984, which would bring the total to $500 million. The increase would be contingent on a satisfactory base agreement.
Meanwhile, Greece appears to be leaning increasingly left. It is the only NATO country that has refused to condemn Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's crackdown on the Solidarity trade union in Poland. Mr. Papandreou stated he favored the recent Warsaw Pact proposal calling for a nuclear-free zone in the Balkans. And in mid-February, when he received Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Tikhonov, Greece concluded a 10-year economic agreement with the Soviet Union. It was the first visit ever by a Soviet leader.