TF-X National Fighter Aircraft [Yerli Savas Jeti]
Turkey’s TF-X project, a $13 billion effort to be able to offer a fifth-generation fighter to the international market, is aiming for first flight in 2025 and to enter service in 2028. As of 2019, a flying prototype is expected by 2023, with the first plane envisioned to be ready by 2025, and the full fleet of 250 to be operational by 2032. These are planned to replace Turkey’s ageing fleet of 245 F-16 fighter jets, which only have one engine, among other drawbacks. The TF-X could remain in service until the 2070s.
The Turkish Air Force has around 240 F-16s and nearly 40 F-4s. The F-4s are at the very end of their service lives. Thirty of the F-16s are of newer models received between 2011 and 2013. But in general, the Turkish Air Force has to fill in a strategic gap in early 2020 when some of its older planes will be retired. Meanwhile, neighbors such as Greece have expressed an interest in the F-35, and upgraded their F-16s, while all neighbouring countries are pursuing fourth or fifth-generation fighter jets. With Turkey’s suspension from the F-35 program, it seemed all the more necessary to develop an indigenous stealth fighter that works well with the long-range missile coverage provided by the S400 it procured recently from Russia. With its own fifth-generation fighter, Turkey would stand to profit by selling it to other countries, while enjoying increased national security with a supply chain that can’t be threatened by sanctions. Initially, there were talks with South Korea to merge the project with the Korean experimental fighter jet program being carried out with Indonesia. But the countries had different defence needs and priorities, affecting the design. Given the United States’ role in removing Turkey from the F-35 program, it did not seem feasible for Lockheed Martin to be a partner.
Turkish Aerospace Industries unveiled a model of its indigenously designed fifth-generation fighter jet, dubbed the TF-X, at the Paris Air Show on 17 June 2019. Turkey’s primary aircraft design bureau put forward at the air show Ankara’s answer to the loss of the F-35, a plane Turkey had once hoped to buy 100 of from the US. Washington recently put that deal on hold over its continued objection to Ankara’s purchasing of S-400 air defense systems from Russia. On the tarmac at Paris-Le Bourget Airport, the dramatic unveiling showed the world a twin-engine, canted-vertical-tail fighter that looks a bit like an F-35, but with a narrower fuselage and wider wingspan.
TAI President and CEO Temel Kotil said "in terms of manufacturing, Turkish Aerospace has enough strength to build this fighter. Our machine is a mock-up, but in 2023 there will be a real machine, and first flight is in 2025, and [it will be in] service in 2028.” Kotil said “We have promised to our nation that this will be the best fighter in Europe. As well as Turkey, hopefully this will also be a good fighter option for European allies.”
The TF-X will have a top speed of Mach 2, a range of 600 miles, and with a maximum takeoff weight of 60,000 pounds. Its engines will provide the jet with 20,000 pounds of thrust each, making it roughly comparable to the Joint Strike Fighter, although slightly faster.
Turkey signed an agreement with the UK in 2017 to facilitate the joint development the aircraft, it said, noting that BAE Systems is helping with the aircraft design, while Rolls-Royce teamed with Turkey’s Kale Group to work on the development of an indigenous engine for the TF-X. BAE Systems, which had collaborated on the program with TAI, said the TF-X will be capable of carrying the long-range, air-to-air Meteor missile under development by European manufacturer MBDA. Ankara was looking to use US General Electric F110 for its first TF-X aircraft.
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