ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s inability to produce a fully indigenous engine is harming some of the country’s otherwise successful domestic defense programs, according to industry and government officials.
“We had it 15 years ago, we had it 10 years ago and we are still having it,” said a former defense industry chief. “It’s our chronic engine problem.”
A government procurement official agreed, telling Defense News that “at best the problem causes major delays, and at worst it can be an existential threat [to programs].”
The Altay, a multibillion-dollar program for the production of Turkey’s first indigenous tank, has long been delayed due to difficulties surrounding the engine and transmission used to power the new-generation tank.
BMC, a Turkish-Qatari joint venture that in 2018 won the serial production contract for the Altay, said in October 2020 that the tank would be fielded within 24 months. The original target was to have the Altay in the field this year 2020. Today, procurement officials and industry sources say even 2022 is an optimistic deadline.
Western countries with power pack technology, particularly Germany, have been reluctant to share technology or sell to Turkey for political reasons.
“Lack of a feasible power pack [engine and transmission] is depriving the program of any sensible progress,” noted an industry source.
Turkey also needs an engine for the new-generation TF-X fighter jet as well as indigenous helicopter models in the making.
At the center of these engine efforts is Tusas Engine Industries, a state-controlled engine maker.
TEI announced June 19 that it successfully tested its locally made TJ300 miniature turbojet engine, which the company produced for medium-range anti-ship missiles. The engine features a thrust rating of 1.3 kilonewtons.
Company officials say the TJ300 engine’s more advanced, future versions could power larger anti-ship cruise missiles and land-attack cruise missiles. Turkey hopes to power its anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles with locally developed engines.
“The effort is about ending dependency on imported designs,” a TEI official said. Turkey currently imports miniature air-breathing engines from Microturbo — a unit of French company Safran — to power its domestically developed cruise missiles.
Separately, Turkey’s Kale Group is developing a larger, albeit miniature turbojet engine called the KTJ-3200. It has a 3.2-kilonewton thrust rating, and will power the Atmaca and SOM missile systems. On a much bigger scale, Kale Group has ambitions to develop an engine to power the TF-X.
In 2017, Kale Group and British company Rolls-Royce launched a joint venture to develop aircraft engines for Turkey, initially targeting the TF-X. But the £100 million (U.S. $124 million) deal was effectively put on hold due to uncertainties over technology transfer. In December, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoğlu said the government is keen to revive talks with Rolls-Royce.
When asked for an update on negotiations, a Rolls-Royce spokesperson told Defense News: “We submitted an engine co-development proposal to Turkey, but the customer has not elected to pursue this to date.”
A year before the Kale Group-Rolls-Royce partnership, Turkish Aerospace Industries — a sister company of TEI — signed a $125 million heads of agreement with U.K.-based firm BAE Systems to collaborate on the first development phase of the TF-X. Turkey originally planned to fly the TF-X in 2023, but aerospace officials are now eyeing 2025 at the earliest.
TEI is also developing the TS1400, a turboshaft engine it intends to power the T625 Gökbey, a utility and transport helicopter developed and built by TAI. The Gökbey currently flies with the CTS-800A turboshaft engine supplied by Light Helicopter Turbine Engine Company, a joint venture between American firm Honeywell and Rolls-Royce.
The Gökbey made its maiden flight in September. TEI says it successfully tested the “core” of its TS1400 turboshaft engine and plans to deliver the prototype to TAI in late 2020.
But analysts remain cautious. “These efforts may eventually fail to materialize without meaningful foreign know-how,” said a London-based Turkey specialist. “Or they may come at costs not viable for mass production.”
Andrew Chuter in London contributed to this report.
Burak Ege Bekdil is the Turkey correspondent for Defense News.