Turkey firming up its F-35 plans
On September 4 this year it was reported that Turkey would use funds from its Defence Industry Support Fund to purchase a second pair of F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighters. Jon Lake looks at the small beginnings to what should be a much larger programme.
The new F-35s, due for delivery in 2016, follow the first pair of aircraft ordered in January and expected in 2015.
In Turkey, the aircraft is better known as the F-35 Müşterek Taarruz Uçağı (MTU), and the familiar JSF acronym is little used.
On January 5 this year Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, chairing the Defence Industry Executive Committee, authorised the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries to open negotiations with Lockheed Martin for the purchase of just two F-35 multi-role combat fighters.
Lockheed Martin had expected Turkey to order an initial six aircraft.
Then, in February, Turkish Defence Minister İsmet Yilmaz confirmed that Turkey still intended to purchase 100 F-35s, stating in writing to the Turkish parliament that: “We are not currently considering abandoning the purchase of the planes.” He outlined the expected cost of $16 billion.
The Turks had previously put the planned purchase on hold because of concerns over technology transfer and access to source codes, which the US Congress has so far refused to share with any of the JSF customer nations.
Turkey is understood to be especially interested in being able to control and programme the aircraft’s identification friend or foe (IFF) after it found that the F-16s’ IFF system always identified Israeli air force aircraft as friendly, necessitating the design of a new IFF system by ASELSAN.
Assuming that this difficulty can be resolved, one way or another, Turkey may even eventually buy more than the 100 F-35s now planned, with some analysts predicting an eventual total of more than 120 aircraft.
The first Turkish F-35 unit is expected to be 172 Filo at Erhaç, part of the 7th Ana Jet Üssü (7th Wing). 171 Filo will be the second unit, transferring its F-4E 2020 Terminators to 111 Filo (the other remaining Phantom fighter squadron) at Eskişehir, before 111 Filo and 112 Filo themselves convert to the F-35.
On June 12 112 Filo stood down, retiring its 18 F-4ETM aircraft, previously upgraded under the Simsek programme, leaving just 111 and 171 Filo operational with the more extensively upgraded F-4E 2020, and 173 Filo with 15 RF-4ETM Isik reconnaissance aircraft, though the future of these is in doubt following the cancellation of an Israeli tactical recce pod programme.
Plans for the 132 Filo (Hançers) tactics and trials unit to receive a few F-35s have reportedly been abandoned.
Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and several other Turkish defence companies will benefit from sub-contracts, which will see them producing more than $5 billion worth of F-35 components and sub-assemblies.
Turkey’s military procurement chief, Murad Bayar, has been pushing for an expanded role for TAI, already scheduled to build 400 F-35 centre fuselages at a cost of US $4 billion. Bayar has said that TAI could complete the centre fuselages for 624 F-25s for no extra investment cost, saving the programme $3.5 billion thanks to Turkey’s lower labour costs.
The only other F-35 customer in the region so far is Israel, which plans to have two squadrons, with 40 F-35s operational by 2020, and which has an eventual requirement for more than 100 Joint Strike Fighters to replace its fleet of over 300 F-16s.
Like other potential operators, Israel had wanted access to software source codes but contented itself with an agreement to integrate Israeli-compatible communications systems and datalinks, and with provision to insert some locally-built ECM and defensive electronics on its first batch of 40 aircraft, at an extra cost of just US $450m.