ANKARA — Tusas Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), maker of what will eventually become Turkey’s first indigenous fighter jet, hopes to pen a design contract for the aircraft in the first half of 2016.
The company is currently in talks with the country’s procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), over the design phase of the program, dubbed TF-X. 
TAI recently has narrowed design options to three models, one of which will be chosen by the end-user, the Turkish Air Force. 
The short-listed design options feature both single-engine and twin-engine models, according to Muharrem Dortkasli, TAI’s general manager. 
"The choice over the engine will be key to finalize the decision on the design concept," Dortkasli said. "All of the chosen three model options are good enough to meet the operational requirements of the end user."
He said that TAI’s work aims to benefit from the capabilities of the local industry "at full." 
"Subsystems will be as ‘national’ as possible," Dortkasli said. 
Turkey hopes to fly the TF-X by 2023, the centennial of the Turkish republic. Dortkasli said the maiden flight will be followed by 300 to 500 sorties before certification of the aircraft.
"We will succeed," he said. 
Analysts say although Turkey is keen to develop a "national" fighter, there will be work will to be shared with foreign aircraft makers.
"I understand that the Turkish red line about the future aircraft’s ‘national’ identity will be about the capability to fly an aircraft with critical sovereign systems — as well as the rights to be able to sell it to potential buyers without having to knock on any foreign producer’s door," said one defense analyst. 
Industry sources agreed that the selection of an engine is the most critical step in the current stage of the program. 
The Turkish government has been in talks with engine makers to assess engine options and modality.  
In December, Rolls-Royce said it was offering its EJ200 engine to power the Turkish-made fighter jet. Procurement officials said they are in talks with Rolls-Royce over the terms of production, know-how and export licenses. 
Eurojet Turbo GmbH is a major partner of Rolls-Royce together with MTU, ITP & Avio for offering the EJ200 as a potential engine for the TF-X program. Rolls-Royce said the technology of the EJ200 makes it smaller and simpler in layout than current engines of a similar thrust class, while giving it lower fuel consumption and an unprecedented power-to-weight ratio.
The first series production Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, powered by the EJ200, were flown in February 2003. The Typhoon flew operational missions over Libya as part of Operation Ellamy, totaling 6,000 engine hours without a reject.
Rolls-Royce has so far delivered more than 1,100 EJ2000 engines. It has a thrust range from 13,500 pounds force lbf dry to 20,000 pounds forcelbf with reheat.
Turks are keen on stealth and believe that the engine technology to be chosen would be very critical in attaining the desired stealth capability.

Burak Ege Bekdil was the Turkey correspondent for Defense News.

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