Turkey‘s air force is becoming obsolete, according to a new Turkish study.
“Turkey and the air warfare capabilities of the Turkish Air Force face a serious test over the next 10 to 20 years,” writes Can Kasapoglu, director of the think tank’s security and defense program. Turkish EDAM, author of the report.
Kasapoglu describes the weakness of Turkish air power as a “techno-generation problem”. The Turkish Air Force’s fourth-generation F-16s and third-generation F-4s – which are essentially Cold War planes – are nearing the end of their lifespan. Turkish plans to replace them with 100 fifth-generation F-35A stealth fighters collapsed after Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 program amid US anger over Turkey’s purchase of missiles Russian antiaircraft S-400. Meanwhile, Turkey’s rivals – including Greece and Israel – are getting F-35s, or Generation 4.5 fighters like the French Rafale.
“If an intermediate solution is not found, Turkish air power will fall behind global trends,” Kasapoglu warns.
The report suggests that forgoing the F-35 in favor of the S-400 missiles was bad business. âTurkey’s defense planning and national security requirements are not suited to a SAM-intensive force structure. The strategic SAM system S-400, which has just entered the inventory of the Turkish armed forces, will not perform at the desired level due to the shortcomings of the network-centric architecture.
Armed drones do not replace the F-35 either. Turkey gained a reputation as a drone power after Turkey-made TB2 and Harop drones decimated Armenian troops and armored vehicles during the Nagorno-Karabakh war of 2020. But EDAM rejects the idea that drones can replace advanced manned airplanes. “While there is the potential for change in the context of artificial intelligence and algorithmic warfare, the parameters of air warfare are still being shaped around manned platforms.”
That leaves the TF-X plans to develop a fifth-generation stealth fighter by 2029. But problems finding a suitable engine from overseas manufacturers “may prolong the time it takes to enter inventory,” EDAM noted.
It is not only the Turkish Air Force that will feel the loss of the F-35. The loss jeopardizes Turkish Navy plans for an amphibious assault ship – essentially a light aircraft carrier – equipped with short-take-off and vertical-landing F-35Bs, according to EDAM.
The study also warns of Turkey’s weakness in air and missile defense. Turkish forces in northern Syria were bombed by Syrian and Russian planes, while planes from the United Arab Emirates reportedly struck a Turkish air base in Libya in 2020 after Turkish forces intervened in the Libyan civil war. “Air defense of combat elements deployed in front of Turkish armed forces and cross-border bases is becoming an increasingly serious requirement in the lessons learned from the Libyan and Syrian experience,” says EDAM.
Turkey is also surrounded by countries with ballistic missiles, including Syria, Armenia, Iran and Russia. Even here, losing the F-35 is a problem: the stealth jet and its advanced sensors could play a vital role in missile defense, both as an interceptor and in carrying out strikes against missile launchers, according to the ‘study.
The report makes it clear that Turkey has only one real solution to maintaining its air power. âTurkey should go back to its priority as the F-35 program. The political advice mentioned is of great importance both for the combat capabilities of the Turkish Air Force and for the technological and economic gains and employment capacity of the Turkish defense industry.
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