Bolstering the Fleet: Turkey's indigenous Hurkus basic trainer will undergo its maiden flight next year. (Turkish Aerospce Industries)
ANKARA — Turkey’s military is becoming slimmer and more professional, but military pilots are leaving service at an alarming rate, officials said. This means greater attention must be paid to the military’s training regime.
The Turkish military is made up mostly of conscripts. A decision this year to shorten their service will mean 100,000 fewer soldiers for NATO’s second largest army. While that is consistent with plans to gradually switch to a semiprofessional force structure, the military might not be able to lure as many professionals as it thinks it can.
Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz has said that in January and February alone, 163 military pilots quit service. Most of those who left were among the most experienced, officials said.
Military officials admit there is a pressing need for better training.
“This is a challenge,” said one general from the military’s training and doctrine school. “For that, we need new gear and, possibly, an intensified training concept.”
Turkey’s arms procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), recently opened a competition to acquire 52 basic trainer aircraft, also known as “screeners.”
“These aircraft will be used to determine whether a new graduate is fit to continue on with flight training,” the general explained.
The planned screeners will replace SF 260 primary trainer planes assembled here in the early 1990s under an Italian license by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI).
Industry sources said potential bidders in this approximately US $75 million competition include US manufacturers Beechcraft and Cirrus, Austria’s Diamond, Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi, the Czech Republic’s Zlin and Germany’s Grobe.
Meanwhile, TAI officials said the Air Force has silently phased out a fleet of nearly 50 F-5 lead-in fighter/trainer jets that Israel’s Elbit Systems had upgraded and delivered in the early 2000s under a nearly $150 million contract.
TAI is upgrading nearly 60 T-38s to replace the F-5s and older T-38s; the T-38 is a version of the F-5 modified for training.
The Turkish Air Force also has 41 KT-1 trainers supplied by Korean Aerospace Industries under a 2007 contract, but Turkey wants to produce its own basic trainer rather than buy more from South Korea.
Recently, a basic trainer plane that Turkey designed and developed won an initial flight certificate from local authorities. Immediately after that, on Sept. 26, Turkey’s top body that oversees procurement decisions, the Defense Industry Executive Committee, approved serial production of the Hurkus, developed by TAI.
The Hurkus is scheduled to undergo its maiden flight next year. Under a 2006 contract, TAI has been manufacturing four prototypes of the Hurkus for testing. The first prototype passed engine tests in February, the second is being tested for static durability and cabin pressure, the third is being assembled, and the fourth will be tested for metal fatigue.
The two-seat Hurkus will have a maximum lifespan of 10,500 flight hours, or about 35 years. The turboprop has a single 1,600-horsepower engine and can fly up to 10,577 meters (nearly 35,000 feet) at a maximum speed of 574 kilometers per hour.
The Hurkus will be equipped for day and night flying, as well as for basic pilot training, instrument flying, navigation training, and weapons and formation training. It will have good visibility from both cockpits, with a 50-degree down-view angle from the rear cockpit, ejection seats, an on-board oxygen generation system, an environmental control system, an anti-G system, and shock-absorbing landing gear for training missions.
The Hurkus will come in four variants:
■ Hurkus-A — A basic version that has been certified with the European Aviation Safety Agency. It is intended for the civilian market.
■ Hurkus-B — An advanced version with integrated avionics, including a mission computer, and a cockpit avionics layout similar to F-16 and F-35 joint strike fighters. The Turkish Army is considering an initial order for 15 aircraft.
■ Hurkus-C — An armed version for the close-air support role, it will have a maximum weapons load of 3,300 pounds. The Army has expressed interest in the Hurkus C to provide support for its attack helicopters.
■ Coast Guard Hurkus — TAI plans to offer another version to support the Turkish Coast Guard’s maritime patrol activities. The aircraft’s back seat would be occupied by an operator for a forward-looking infrared sensor.
Military officials said that by 2017, the Turkish trainer fleet will comprise the screeners Ankara now intends to buy, as well as the KT-1, the Hurkus, the upgraded T-38 (T-38T) and the F-16.
By 2025, the trainer fleet will have the screeners, the Hurkus, an indigenous trainer designed and developed for the fighter Turkey intends to build, the TF-X, and a combination of the F-16s, TF-Xs and F-35s.