Problems Persist With F-35 Tuekey To Produce Fighter Its Own Fighter Jets

Turkey is seriously reconsidering the myriad agreements it has signed
with the US, as well as its participation in an international consortium
for the procurement of new generation fighter jets, due to rising costs
and persisting problems originating from the American side.

Turkey is now seeking new ways to sidestep difficulties in the
procurement of F-16 fighter planes, which it has been jointly producing
with the US since 1987, due to the delayed delivery by the US
authorities of some of the plane’s parts and accessories. There have
been serious doubts as to whether Turkey’s plan to purchase 100 F-35
fighter planes would ever materialize, as the country is thinking about
withdrawing from the consortium following the hike in costs that
resulted from other countries leaving from the consortium.

With 240 F-16s, Turkey has the third largest fleet of these fighter jets
after the US and Israel. Turkey chose the F-16 to use in its air force
in the early 1980s, and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAİ) was
established soon after the decision. Between 1987 and 1995, TAİ
assembled 152 planes in the first phase of the F-16 project. The second
phase took place between 1995 and 1999, and 80 planes were assembled.
Turkey received its first overseas order for F-16 planes in 1993 from
the Egyptian air force and assembled 46 planes for them.

Recently TAI upgraded the first of 17 planes for Jordan’s air force
within the context of a modernization program. Several Turkey-made
planes have also been dispatched to Pakistan.

In total TAİ has assembled 278 F-16s since it first began operations in
1987. During production, 29 planes were produced with no mistakes and
three of them were considered “perfect.” Considering that only nine F-16
planes are produced as perfect out of 4,000 fighter jets in the world,
Turkey’s success is conspicuous.

Turkey suspended production of the F-16 in 2000, but these fighter jets still remain the backbone of the Turkish armed forces.

Strained ties delayed delivery of plane accessories

As the agreement between the US and Turkey expired in 2000, Turkey has
continued to work with Israel in modernizing the F-16s. Turkey has
attempted to compensate for several mistakes that occurred while working
with the US through several deals with Israel. The fundamental problem
was that the US did not hand the F-16s directly to the Turkish Air
Forces and it required TAİ-made planes be tested in the US before the
eventual delivery to the Turkish Air Forces.

The US had also refused to provide source codes for the software of
F-16s to Turkey since the inception of the joint production. Tensions in
the relations between the US and Turkey have recently spawned a series
of crises in this particular sphere, a possibility which Turkey has
overlooked for years.

A senior official at the Turkish Undersecretariat for the Defense
Industry (SSM) confided in Today’s Zaman that the US is not willing to
provide vital parts of the F-16 planes to Turkey in contrast to
agreements the two countries have signed in the past few years.

The same senior official said the US delayed the fulfillment its duties
specified in the agreements it signed with Turkey between 1987 and 1995
and that this has caused serious problems in modernization of F-16s.

The official lamented that Turkey is experiencing very serious problems
in obtaining parts and accessories for the planes as ties with Israel
collapsed, and that he finds it noteworthy to stress that the US
administration has made congressional approval a precondition of selling
any sort of weaponry and military equipment.

Last October the US expressed concerns that Turkey was using US-made
F-16s in the Turkey-China aerial exercises, which took place in the
Central Anatolian town of Konya, but Turkey reassured the US
administration that no US-made jets were used in the joint drill.

Turkey decided to modernize 165 F-16 planes on Dec. 11, 2009 and several
Israeli firms were competing to win the tender, along with Turkey’s
TUSAŞ and HAVELSAN. All projects between Turkey and Israel in the areas
of military training and cooperation were frozen in mid-June after the
lethal May 31 Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying
humanitarian aid to Gaza, leaving left nine civilians dead. The two
countries were set to realize a $757 million plane and tank
modernization project but this project was also shelved. The Turkish
government decided to give the modernization tender to Turkish firms
after Turkish-Israeli ties became strained.

A $240 million modernization project was given to Turkish companies, but
30 percent of the plane’s parts will be provided by the US military
behemoth Lockheed Martin.

Turkey is also considering its participation in the world’s largest
military consortium that is planning to produce 3,000 F-35 fighter jets.
Turkey is the ninth country to take part in the production process of
the F-35 warplane project. The other countries are the US, the UK,
Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Denmark, Canada and Norway. Turkey is
expected to purchase 100 F-35 jets in the next 15 to 20 years. Rising
costs pushed several countries to withdraw from the $280 billion
project, and the same senior official said Turkey might also consider
withdrawing.

The Defense Industry Executive Committee (SSİK), under the aegis of
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, will make its final decision in
April. The SSİK is seeking ways to jointly produce some parts of F-35
fighter planes with the American General Electric Co. and the
Rolls-Royce Group in Turkey.

Turkey is also deliberating the exchange of its F-16s for F-35s within a
reasonable time period. Turkey is expected to pay nearly $11 billion
for 100 F-35 fighter jets. Citing rising costs in production, the
consortium is asking Turkey for an additional $4 billion for the F-35s,
but Turkey is reluctant to pay this amount. As some countries have
withdrawn from the project, Turkey will reportedly have to pay up to $25
billion for the project.

Turkey is planning joint warplane production with Gulf countries

Turkey has made a radical shift recently, deciding to produce its first
fleet of national fighter jets following crises in F-16 and F-35
projects with the US and Israel.

Turkish authorities decided during a Defense Industry Executive
Committee (SSİK) meeting last December to begin production on the first
Turkish fighter jets in 2020 in order to meet the needs of the Turkish
Armed Forces (TSK). TUSAŞ Engine Industries Inc. (TEİ) and TAİ will be
the leading companies that will undertake production of these fighter
jets, planning to design and produce plane engines by 2015.

Israel claimed that Turkey will fail to produce these jets as no
country in the world would dare to build its own planes without
participating in a consortium due to the high costs.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Adana deputy Kürşat Atılgan told
Today’s Zaman that no country could produce a fighter jet by itself and
for lucrative production, there needs to be at least 400 jets produced.
Considering this fact, Turkey had been secretly trying to build a
consortium with neighboring and friendly countries. In last month’s SSİK
meeting, Gönül also talked about the possibility of joint production of
fighter jets with South Korean companies. This issue was raised during
Erdoğan’s recent visit to Gulf countries. Turkey thinks it will be
easier to produce its own fighter jets with five countries involved in
the region.