Despite economic recession, Turkey is investing a great deal in its aircraft industry. The most ambitious project is the TFX, a plan to build a 5th generation stealth fighter similar in size to the Eurofighter Typhoon. We asked Arda Mevlutoglu.
“The new fighter development program, known as TFX or MMU (Milli Muharip Ucak; National Combat Aircraft) was started in 2011 with the conceptual design phase. The next stage, preliminary design phase was started in 2016 with a contract signed between Turkish Aerospace (TAI) and Undersecretariat for Defense Industries. BAE Systems was selected to support on the skills, technology and technical expertise required to deliver the programme.
The TFX project calls for a twin-engine, high performance 5th generation fighter aircraft with stealth characteristics, primarily for the air-to-air mission. According to TAI data, the aircraft will be powered by two 20,000lb engines* with a service ceiling of more than 55,000ft. Maximum speed is around Mach 2 and the combat radius will be more than 600nm. Maximum take-off weight is expected to be more than 60,000lb. It has recently been announced that the roll-out of the aircraft is planned for 2023 with the maiden flight taking place in 2026 and service entry into Turkish Air Force in 2031.”
*(This week Rolls-Royce announced they were withdrawing from this project citing irreconcilable intellectual property concerns)
Is it a good idea? “The Turkish Air Force currently has a combat aircraft fleet of 240 F-16C/D Fighting Falcons of Block 30, 40, 50 and 50+ types as well as around 40 F-4E 2020 Terminators. The Terminators are optimised for ground strike and stand-off precision strike missions with around 35 of the Block 30’s nearing the end of their useful service lives. These two models are planned to be replaced by the F-35A. Starting from the 2030s, Block 40s, and later Block 50s, will need to be replaced — and that is where TFX comes in.
Therefore, the TFX is not an unfounded or unnecessary project. The model of it, on the other hand, is indeed ambitious.
It is true that Turkey has achieved significant progress in the past 20 years in the defence and aerospace sectors. The industry has expanded greatly and many indigenous designs have been completed and entered serial production. However, design, development, manufacture and sustainment of a fifth-generation fighter aircraft is a highly complex undertaking, requiring the existence of established infrastructure, human resource, experience pool and most importantly — financial resources. Therefore, it is practically impossible to conduct such a project without partners, as seen in the Tempest, FCAS, KFX programmes.
Officials have recently revealed that Turkey is in talks with several countries, without giving names, on establishing partnership for the development and production of the TFX.”
What is the future of Turkey’s aerospace industry?
“The sector has a very wide range of products and projects, such as TFX, Hurjet advanced jet training and combat aircraft, Hurkus turboprop trainer and close support aircraft, T129 Atak attack helicopter and a heavier version of it designated Atak 2, T625 Gokbey general purpose helicopter.
The Anka MALE and Bayraktar TB2 tactical unmanned aircraft systems are in active service, and have the ability to fire indigenous precision strike weapons. The next step for the industry is to mature these products, sustain itself with new projects and last (but not least) increase its footstep in the export market. So far TB2 tactical UAVs have been exported to Ukraine and Qatar, and a contract for 30 T129 attack helicopters was signed with Pakistan. The helicopter was also selected by the Philippines. Increasing export sales will guarantee the future of the industry, especially once reliance on foreign (read Western) countries in critical subsystems such as engine and electronics is overcome.”
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Arda Mevlutoglu is an astronautical engineer. He is currently working as the VP of an international trading and consultancy company, focusing on defense and aerospace sector. He is currently working as the Vice President of Defense Programs at an international trading and consultancy company. His research focuses on defence industry technology, policies and geopolitical assessments.