ANKARA — In their Campaigning before June's 7 parliamentary elections, Turkey’s government leaders portrayed TRJet, a planned dual-use future regional jet, as a "100 percent Turkish aircraft." The program now faces a debate over exactly how much "Turkish" the aircraft should be — even before a contract for the deal has been signed.
Turkey has committed to buying 50 TRJet aircraft based on the Dornier 328 and 628 aircraft under a deal with US-based Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC), and industry experts say the program may be much bigger.
Earlier this year, Turkey's top procurement panel, the Defense Industry Executive Committee chaired by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, authorized the procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), to negotiate the contract with SNC.
"There has been progress in contract negotiations," SNC CEO Fatih Ozmen told Turkish daily Hurriyet. "We plan the TRJ-328's maiden flight in 2019, and the TRJ-628's in 2023."
But SNC President Eren Ozmen complains that the Turkish authorities insist the local work share should be at 70 percent. "It is extremely difficult to have 70 percent local work in early stages of the program," she said. "We may reach that number in 2023."
The Ozmens estimate the size of the program to reach $1.5 billion.
"There is no 100 percent local work in this [aviation] industry," Eren Ozmen said. "Some parts and engine may be imported. During [contract] negotiations we have been asked to commit to 70 percent [local work]. This can be attainable with the TRJ-628 [not the TRJ-328]," she said.
SSM's head Ismail Demir, who is Turkey's top procurement official, said that his office would determine what would constitute "the 70 percent" so as not to block the program. "We've never talked of a 100-percent Turkish aircraft, we never will," he told Hurriyet.
Demir promised "flexibility" in talks with SNC over local work share. "How much of the local work share should count as technology development, how much of it as exports … time frames … we'll determine all that," he said.
A senior procurement official said that the TRJet engine would not be a local development project. "We want this program to go ahead as sound and fast as possible. We know that we will be talking about an imported engine for what eventually will become a Turkish aircraft," he said.
Demir said: "We know that the engine would not be local in the early years of the program. But this [a local engine] too is our target. We want to go from one stage to another," he said.
Industry sources say that what SNC and SSM would agree on the local content for an indigenous program would be critical in determining the share of local and foreign work in similar Turkish programs.
"There are several indigenous programs Ankara claims will build '100 percent Turkish' systems, and foreign players do not know what business they can do with these. The deal on the local work share in TRJet will give an idea," one senior western industry official said.
The TRJet program envisages the eventual production of four models of the aircraft — a jet (TRJ-328) and a turboprop (TR-328) with 32 seats, and a jet (TRJ-628) and a turboprop (TR-628) with 60 to 70 seats.
SNC sees a market size of 500 to 1,000 aircraft for the TRJ-328 alone, and a similar number for the TRJ-628.
Turkey acquired intellectual property rights for the Dornier 328 and Dornier 628 from SNC, which later signed a memorandum of understanding with Ankara-based STM, a state-controlled defense technologies company, for joint work on the regional jet program — a program designed to meet Turkey's civilian and military requirements.
The modernization of the TRJ-328 will be performed by German, US and Turkish engineers. The first five aircraft will be manufactured in Germany for EASA certification purposes. The remaining 45 of the initial 50 and beyond will be produced in Turkey. The TRJ-628 will be completely designed in Turkey "with the DNA from the 628."
Any modifications for different configurations, including military ones, will be performed in Turkey. The company expects the military and intelligence configurations to be later orders. Those configurations do not change the base aircraft configuration.
Procurement officials say the military aircraft versions would serve in ambulance, maritime patrol, VIP shuttle, transport and intelligence roles.