ANKARA, Turkey — The Turkish government has officially launched a competition for the local development of a turbofan engine that will power the country’s national fighter jet in the making, the TF-X.

Turkey’s defense procurement agency, the Presidency of Defense Industries, or SSB, issued in June a request for proposals, inviting potential bidders for the program. SSB said two Turkish engine makers, Tusas Engine Industries and TRMotor, have replied to the RFP.

The agency’s chief and the government’s top procurement official, Ismail Demir, told media that TAEC, a partnership between British engine-maker Rolls-Royce and Turkish industrial conglomerate Kale Group, would soon reply to the RFP, making it a three-way competition. Kale owns 51% of TAEC.

The planned TAEC engine is expected to fly the TF-X at an altitude of 40,000 feet and help it reach a speed of up to Mach 1.8.

Demir said the government’s sine qua nons — or essential requirements — are:

  • Production of the planned engine in Turkey.
  • Intellectual property rights owned by Turkey.
  • No export license restrictions.
  • Cost effectiveness.

Demir said TAEC’s offering met all criteria but one: intellectual property rights owned by Turkey. “In case we do not agree on a deal with Rolls-Royce, Turkey will move ahead with its indigenous capabilities [to develop the engine],” he stated.

One of the two local bidders, Tusas Engine Industries, is a government-controlled company. Based in Eskişehir, northwestern Turkey, TEI was founded in 1985 as a joint venture involving GE Aviation, Turkish Aerospace Industries, the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation and the Turkish Aeronautical Association.

The other domestic bidder, TRMotor, was founded in 2017 by SSTEK, a subsidiary of the procurement agency SSB. Tusas, which is the parent company of TEI and Turkish Aerospace Industries, wholly owns TRMotor.

SSB plans to build TF-X prototypes using the American-made F110 engine. The General Electric F110 is an afterburning turbofan jet engine produced by GE Aviation, and it uses the same engine core design as the company’s F101. The engine is also built under license by TEI.

“It is likely that we may use the F110 in serial production [of the TF-X],” Demir said.

But a senior industry official and engine expert said powering the TF-X with the F110 may prove difficult. “Serial production may require vast amounts of investment and testing time. In addition, this option would come with the same export license and intellectual property rights problems as Turks dislike with the Rolls-Royce solution,” the official said on the condition of anonymity, as the individual was concerned about employer retaliation for speaking to the media.

A British proposal

Demir also said BAE Systems has made a new proposal to Turkey about the TF-X program. “The new proposal is about the second phase of the [TF-X] program. We will respond after checking if that proposal for technical support fits our requirements,” Demir said.

The TF-X’s second phase is about finishing the preliminary conceptual design.

Top British manufacturers like BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce are no strangers to the TF-X program. In October 2016, Rolls-Royce offered a joint production partnership to Turkey with a view to powering planned Turkish platforms and potential sales to third parties. The company’s proposal involved a production unit in Turkey to manufacture engines for the TF-X, as well as for helicopters, tanks and missiles.

In January 2017, BAE Systems and TAI signed a deal worth more than £100 million (U.S. $120 million) to develop the Turkish fighter jet. “We work with Turkish Aerospace to bring know-how and engineering expertise to the TF-X programme,” BAE tweeted Feb. 15, 2022.

The TF-X is scheduled to make its maiden flight in 2026. It will enter service in 2029, according to Turkish officials.

Burak Ege Bekdil was the Turkey correspondent for Defense News.

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