Turkey is committed to buying 100 F-35s. (Staff Sgt. Darlene Seltmann / US Air Force)
ANKARA — Turkey’s procurement and military officials are hoping to build a new generation, dual fighter jet fleet by their country’s centennial — 2023 — comprising F-35s and indigenous aircraft Ankara has been designing.
“Despite ups and downs, we remain fully committed to the [Joint Strike Fighter] program. But independently, we will develop our own fighter. There is an established policy understanding to keep our [fighter] fleet limited to these two only,” said a senior government official for defense procurement.
An official from the procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), confirmed: “We think a combination of both aircraft will ensure sufficient firepower and deterrence.”
The SSM official said the F-35 has some weaknesses in air-to-air combat, but the TF-X would compensate. TF-X is Turkey’s indigenous fighter under development.
After delays of more than a year, Turkey’s top procurement panel last month officially decided to order the country’s first two F-35s. The order is for the first F-35A aircraft with Block-3F configuration under Low Rate Initial Production-10.
Turkey joined the multinational F-35 program as a consortium partner during the concept demonstration phase in 1999.
In January 2013, Turkey indefinitely put off a decision to order the first two F-35s, citing unpredictable costs and technical snags. But procurement officials say the country’s commitment to eventually acquire 100 F-35s remains.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is widely expected to give an official go-ahead for the first phase of the development stage of the TF-X this year.
Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) already has concluded the preconceptual design work and produced three draft models, one of which would become the first Turkish indigenous fighter jet. For the preconceptual design work, TAI extensively cooperated with Sweden’s Saab, maker of the Gripen, a lightweight single-engine multirole fighter. Turkey hopes that it can fly the Turkish fighter by 2023.
The SSM official said Turkey would eventually buy 100 to 150 of the TF-X.
“How we proceed from now on is to first decide on an engine for the TF-X and then develop the aircraft based on that engine,” he said.
This year, SSM wrote to three engine makers — GE, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce — asking them to propose a suitable engine for the TF-X.
“We expect to select an engine before the end of the year,” the SSM official said. “That will pave the way for the first phase of development.”
On June 6, Pratt & Whitney inaugurated at a high profile ceremony its Turkish partnership with local aviation company Kale to produce critical engine parts for the F-35.
Kale Pratt & Whitney, the joint venture, will manufacture the parts of the F-135, the engine for the F-35, at the plant in Izmir on Turkey’s Aegean coast.
Pratt & Whitney has a 51 percent share in the joint venture while the Turkish company holds the remaining 49 percent, company officials said.
The $75 million investment will employ an initial 700 workers. ■