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Turkey’s TFX: Where Does It Stand Today?

By Arslan Khan

Author Profile: Arslan Khan is an aerospace engineering student and an analyst/observer of Pakistani defence issues.

On 19 November, the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Mike Wigston tweeted a comment about the TFX, Turkey’s next-generation fighter program.[1] ACM Wigston seemingly reaffirmed the U.K’s – and in particular, BAE System’s – involvement in the TFX. In 2017, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) signed an agreement with BAE Systems in which the latter agreed to help design and develop the fighter.

Having lost its access to the F-35 Lightning II, the TFX is of importance to Turkey as its sole (albeit current) option for a next-generation fighter. However, Ankara was also clear about exporting the fighter; but considering its current development track (and inputs), is this a realistic option?

How Realistic is the TFX?

There is skepticism about Turkey’s ability to develop the TFX, at least within its aggressive timelines and – more importantly – indigenization goals. In January 2020, the Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB) led by Dr. Ismail Demir reportedly said that the indigenous engine-equipped TFX would fly in 2029.[2] To achieve a goal of this magnitude on one’s first attempt at an in-house fighter and engine is unprecedented.

In one respect, the TFX is fully tenable. In this context, one can trust Turkey’s ability to manage the project (from its past history manufacturing F-16s and, as of late, designing advanced drones) if it relies on reliable foreign inputs, such as engines and electronics. The Turkish industry – including both public sector giants such as TAI and private sector upstarts like KALE – was also involved in the F-35’s supply channel. Thus, its ability to support design, development, integration, manufacturing, and support is all established.

However, the caveat in this scenario is that the critical inputs – i.e., the most valuable and difficult to build – components are of foreign origin. If Turkey can take these inputs for granted, the TFX will be as capable and successful as the T129 ATAK attack helicopter and Altay main battle tank (MBT). However, if the Turks fail to secure these inputs, the TFX will suffer the same delays or export roadblocks as the ATAK and Altay.

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