Two Turkish F-16s fly alongside a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker over the North Sea during a refueling mission Sept. 23, 2009, in support of Exercise Bold Avenger 2009 held at Karup Air Base, Denmark. The KC-135 from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, refueled 18 F-16s from allied air forces, delivering more than 99,000 pounds of jet fuel. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Thomas Trower)
ANKARA — Turkey's government and military leaders have agreed to speed up the country's crawling program for the design, development and production of an indigenous fighter jet.
Officials here said that there is a broad "administrative agreement" over a need to give the program a boost.
"The program will gain notable pace after the [parliamentary] elections [on June 7]," said one senior procurement official familiar with the program, dubbed the TF-X. "There is consensus among the president [Recep Tayyip Erdogan], prime minister [Ahmet Davutoglu] and the Air Force that the program should go ahead with a 'priority tag.' "
An Air Force official assisting the program said that the top brass in the service is "too keen to go faster than before."
He said: "Maximum [expert] input possible will be provided from our side," he said. "This is now an established policy."
Early in March, the procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM) procurement agency released a request for information (RFI) for the ambitious TF-X.
In that document, SSM defined in the RFI document the scope of the fighter program as "indigenous design, development and production activities of the first Turkish fighter aircraft to meet Turkish Armed Forces' next generation fighter requirements and replace the existing F-16 fighter fleet starting from 2030s."
Companies or organizations capable of designing, developing and manufacturing the planned aircraft are invited to obtain an electronic copy of the RFI from SSM.
SSM officials say the release of the RFI marks a critical stage for the program, aiming "to see which companies would be willing to take part and which capabilities will be offered."
"We expect a satisfactory level of international interest," the procurement official said. "We already unofficially know that a number of foreign manufacturers hope to be part of this program."
He said that a new roadmap also has been devised. The first thing Ankara will do, he said, is to put together a team of SSM and Air Force officials that will be expected to run the program until the end.
"Soon there will formally be an enthusiastic team working on the ideal modality for the program," the official said. "That team is being structured at the moment."
Turkey's top procurement panel, the Defense Industry Executive Committee, chaired by Prime Minister Davutoglu, officially decided on Jan. 7 to go ahead with the TF-X program after reviewing its feasibility.
At the meeting, the committee decided to move beyond the pre-concept design stage. It said that a twin-engine model would be pursued in the national fighter aircraft program.
Other members of the committee are Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, Chief of Military General Staff Gen. Ncdet Ozel and chief procurement official, Ismail Demir, head of the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM).
Davutoglu has said that a twin-engine model would be pursued in the national fighter aircraft program.
But the procurement official said that this is not an irreversible decision. "We remain flexible on the choice of engine modality. Depending on our choice of a base model we may rethink that," he said.
He also said that the "base model" could be both a NATO or a non-NATO product.
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