Sources say Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will approve plans to build an indigenous fighter, despite misgivings over whether the country can afford it. (AFP/Getty Images)
ANKARA — Turkey’s government, procurement and industry officials widely expect Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to approve an ambitious program to build the country’s first indigenous fighter aircraft, amid doubts that Ankara could afford to buy it alongside theF-35 joint strike fighter.
A senior procurement official said the three draft models, one of which would become the first Turkish indigenous fighter jet, have been finalized.
“If and how we proceed from now on will be discussed and decided at the next committee meeting,” the procurement official said Jan. 20. “We expect the prime minister to rule in favor of going ahead to the development phase.”
The “committee” is the Defense Industry Executive Committee, chaired by Erdogan, which oversees top procurement decisions. The committee does not have a scheduled meeting, but sources say the next gathering is likely before local elections March 30.
The committee’s other members are Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, Chief of General Staff Army Gen. Necdet Ozel and chief procurement official Murad Bayar.
Turkey has been in talks with Sweden’s Saab for pre-conceptual design work for the first Turkish national fighter jet. Saab produces the JAS 39 Gripen, a lightweight single-engine multirole fighter.
But industry sources say other foreign players could get involved in later stages. “It is not a secret that [Korea Aerospace Industries] is seeking to have a slot,” said one Western company source.
Turkey hopes that the indigenous TF-X will fly by 2023, the centennial of the republic. Turkey’s aerospace powerhouse, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), has been debating three designs.
“We have submitted our report on the three designs without delays. We hope that the government will give the go-ahead for [the next stage of] the program. We aim to sign a development contract this year,” said Ozcan Ertem, head of TAI’s aircraft group, in remarks carried by the semiofficial Anadolu news agency.
Another procurement official said all parties involved with TF-X met this month “to iron out differences between the procurement authorities and the Air Force over what ... TAI’s role should be.”
A government official said Erdogan could endorse the TF-X development contract. “I cannot speak on the prime minister’s behalf at this stage. And the findings of TAI’s report are not yet on his desk. All I can say is that this is one of his ‘prestige projects,’ ” he said.
But industry sources and experts have said that developing and building the first made-in-Turkey fighter while buying F-35s could be too costly for Turkey.
They say Turkey could face a US $50 billion bill in the next few decades if it decides to build an indigenous fighter jet and order scores of the US-led, multinational F-35 in a parallel move. Ankara intends to buy around 100 F-35s.
Industry experts say a number of Turkish companies, with experience earned as part of the US-led JSF program, now look more competent: Ayesas and KALE in aviation; TEI in engines; TAI in fuselage, design and integration; Aselsan in avionics, radars and electronics; Roketsan and MKEK in weapons systems; Ayesas and Milsoft in data software; and Meteksan in national data links.
As an earlier indication of a positive decision on the TF-X, former Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said in September that a plan for the design, development and production of a Turkish civilian aircraft, with 60 to 120 seats, already had been submitted to the Cabinet for approval. ■