The sounds of fighter jets and helicopters cut across the sky above the Aegean Sea as the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) carried out their biennial military exercise named EFES 2022 in the coastal city of Izmir last week. Alongside the roughly 10,000 personnel from 37 countries taking part in the exercises were some of the military equipment developed by Turkey. Once a nation heavily dependent on foreign arms supplies, Turkey, under the administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is now able to meet 80% of its national defense industry needs locally. The domestically manufactured weapons portfolio includes the legendary Bayraktar TB2 among other effective drones, air defense systems, anti-ship missiles, light armaments, and the national warship and tank programs. However, one critical piece of military hardware has remained elusive and a national solution, the TF-X, Turkey‘s national fighter jet, is still years away from entering TSK’s inventory.
An aging fleet
For 35 years, the centerpiece of the Turkish Air Force has been the F-16 fighter jet. Ankara currently has 270 F-16C/D aircraft in its inventory and is one of five countries that produce the jet locally. The domestic defense industry also grew around the F-16, providing maintenance and developing many upgrades for the fighter. While the dependable F-16 has served Turkey’s needs over the years, advances in technology, a new security environment and increased regional competition have created a dire need to modernize the Army’s aging fleet. Turkish air. Ankara was to gradually replace its F-16 fleet with Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation F-35 joint strike fighter. Turkey became a partner in the stealth aircraft program in 2007 and planned to purchase 100 F-35s initially. However, after Turkey acquired the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, the United States pulled Ankara from the program in July 2019 over fears that the stealth capabilities of the F-35s could be compromised.
F-16 approval is a draw
Turkey’s withdrawal from the F-35 program has created a dilemma for its air force over how to proceed with procurement. As the idea of purchasing another fifth-generation fighter jet was mooted, Ankara decided to double down and accelerate the development of its national fighter jet project coupled with a mix of procurement of 40 new aircraft F-16 and 80 retrofit kits for the existing fleet was the most feasible course of action. The F-16 purchase request was made in the United States in October 2021, initiating the Foreign Military Sales process. What would normally be considered a routine sale between NATO allies has taken on a different dimension. The relationship between Turkey and the United States has been plagued by trouble spots over the years. Disagreements among NATO allies are highlighted by Ankara’s anger over Washington’s cooperation in Syria with the YPG, which is the local affiliate of the PKK terror organization, and US sanctions on Turkey due to its purchase of Russian S-400s. The deal, which requires approval from the US State Department and Congress, is slow and with ethnic lobbies working to block the sale and a negative view of Turkey in Congress, US President Joe Biden could having to expend significant political capital to get it approved. With the current situation between the United States and Turkey, the outcome of the F-16 request is a draw.
Urgent Safety Concerns
As Ankara awaits Washington’s response, national security concerns continue to escalate in its neighborhood. The conflict in Ukraine, which has entered its fourth month, has reintroduced warfare to the European continent and has the potential to destabilize the region. Russia has increased its presence throughout the Black Sea and continues to create security problems in Syria by allowing the presence of the YPG terrorist group in the northeast of the country. In the eastern Mediterranean, the balance of air power has always been an important element in maintaining peace between coastal neighbours. Greece’s recent acquisition of French-made Rafale fighter jets and demand for F-35s will tip the balance in favor of Athens. These developments create a growing sense of urgency that Turkey needs to quickly finalize its acquisition of fighter jets and it may be time to start looking for alternatives.
Eurofighter Typhoon meets Turkey’s needs
Before Turkey made its decision to buy new F-16s and modernize the existing fleet with upgrades, Ankara had considered a stopgap acquisition. For an alternative solution to be considered viable, Turkey would need an aircraft with rotational capabilities capable of countering a wide variety of threats, providing air superiority, being considered NATO friendly and interoperable in a mixed fleet that would include F-16s and in the future, the TF-X. Eurofighter’s Typhoon is an option that ticks all of these boxes. The Eurofighter programme, which is developed, produced and maintained by the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy, is proven and forms the backbone of Allied air defence. Since its maiden flight in 1994, the Typhoon has been modernized and upgraded to become the most advanced oscillating role fighter aircraft on the market. Its airframe was designed to reduce the radar cross section and the upgrades improve the stealth characteristics of the aircraft. Sensor fusion, high situational awareness, state-of-the-art avionics and electronics, super-cruise capability, and sovereignty over mission data would provide the Turkish Air Force with a competitive edge. Additionally, the Typhoon could operate in both future air combat systems (FCAS or Tempest), allowing Eurofighter and partner companies time to mature technologies on the platform. This also includes areas such as training opportunities in complex multi-domain scenarios. These technological lessons could benefit the Turkish TF-X program. With the new software and hardware upgrade packages Eurofighter is developing, the Typhoon will be able to counter any threats or challenges that may arise up to the 2060s, making it not only an interim solution, but also an upgrade. full upgrade of Turkish Air’s capabilities. Strength.
National Defense Industry Synergy
Other important factors that make the Typhoon the best choice for Ankara are the synergies between Turkish defense companies and Eurofighter partner companies and future opportunities for local upgrades. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is currently collaborating with BAE Systems on Turkey’s national fighter jet project, the TF-X. TAI also has a long and successful history of partnering with Airbus and Leanardo on projects that include the CN-235 aircraft, Cougar helicopter, A400M transport aircraft and AW129 helicopter. Existing communication channels and mutual respect established over many years of long-standing cooperation will facilitate collaboration on Typhoon procurement and the involvement of Turkish companies at all stages with Eurofighter will improve know-how and local workforce experience, increase capacity building throughout the supply chain, and provide opportunities for local upgrades and local maintenance that would reduce future expenses.
Hedging supply risks through diversification
After years of reliance on the F-16 and wasted time investing in the F-35 project, Turkey’s fallout with the United States has shown Ankara the pitfalls and risks associated with reliance on a single source of energy. ‘supply. Many countries in the region have already embarked on the process of diversifying the supply of critical military equipment. In this regard, Turkey has taken positive steps to diversify its purchases of air defense systems, as discussions on a Eurosam SAMP/T acquisition have been revived. The recent lifting of a British embargo on defense exports to Turkey and Ankara’s warm relations with London, Berlin, Madrid and Rome have created a favorable procurement atmosphere for Turkey to expand its supplier portfolio and cover risks. Diversification of suppliers, coupled with the future arrival of a domestically manufactured fighter jet, will give the TSK more flexibility in future planning and resilience in the face of geopolitical supply shocks.
Reaffirm NATO’s commitment
As geopolitical fundamentals change and new challenges emerge, security and collective defense cooperation continues to grow in importance. Unfortunately, the growing complexity of political and economic interdependencies and occasional differences of opinion between Ankara and its allies are being exploited by those who question Turkey’s place in the transatlantic alliance. With Turkey excluded from the F-35 program, the acquisition of Eurofighter Typhoons would not only secure Ankara’s position as a vital element of NATO air defense for years to come, but would also firmly reaffirm the Turkey’s commitment to the alliance.
*Yusuf Erim is a Turkish foreign policy expert and editor of TRT World, Turkey’s English-language public broadcaster.
**Mohammad Walid bin Siraj is a weapons expert, defense analyst and former officer in the Bangladesh Armed Forces