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Turkey’s Fighter Efforts Start Catching Momentum

The centerpiece of Turkey’s aerospace development efforts is undoubtedly the Milli Muharip Uçak (MMU) – or National Combat Aircraft (i.e., the TFX). Spearheaded by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), Turkey’s current plans are focused on rolling out a prototype in 2023 and, potentially, a test-flight in 2025.[1]

These dates reflect Turkey’s decision to use an off-the-shelf powerplant – i.e., the General Electric (GE) F110 – to power the prototype TFX/MMU and, potentially, its first production variants.[2] However, Turkey also plans to fly a variant of the MMU with indigenously developed engines by 2029.[3]

TR Motor is managing the indigenous engine development program. TR Motor is a jointly-owned public and private corporation with investment from TAI (i.e., a state-owned entity), BMC (i.e., a private sector giant), and SSTEK (a state-owned entity owned by the Presidency of Defence Industries or SSB).

According to Osman Dur, the general manager of TR Motor, said that 80 engineers were working (as of 2020) on the engine.[4] However, this is likely the start of TR Motor’s human resource investment. According to TAI’s general manager, Temel Kotil, the various involved in the MMU will need 3,000 personnel for the program. This would be in addition to the 3,000 TAI alone is hiring to carryout airframe development.[5]

The airframe and engine are basically the flagships of the MMU program, but Turkey is taking indigenous inputs seriously enough to even consider less conspicuous subsystems. For example, TR Motor will design and develop the auxiliary power unit (APU) and air turbine start system (ATSS) of the MMU.[6]

In addition, other Turkish companies across the public and private sector are developing onboard oxygen-generating systems (OBOGS), airframe materials (e.g., composites), onboard electronics (e.g., radar), and air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions. In fact, many of these programs are further along compared to the MMU and, in turn, could see implementation in several years through upgrades for Turkey’s F-16s.

Overall, these examples demonstrate that the Turkish government’s seriousness in developing the MMU has now translated into significant industry-wide efforts. Basically, the MMU is no longer confined to TAI or the SSB, but now involves Turkey’s major aerospace suppliers.

Figuratively speaking, the MMU “ball is rolling,” but the question now is how much of a runway Turkey is able to afford on its own. There is no doubt that a next-generation fighter aircraft (NGFA) is an incredibly expensive effort, especially for a large twin-engine fighter such as the MMU. Turkey recognized this issue early on in 2016-2017, so it invited other countries (including Pakistan) to the MMU.

Quwa maintains that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is likely to roll its in-house NGFA program, Project AZM, into a collaborative effort with another country. With Turkey’s seriousness in the MMU manifesting (e.g., extensive hiring across its industry and dozens of supporting programs) in recent years, the MMU may be a leading candidate. For the PAF, the main condition for its participation is that the fighter be free of any ITAR restrictions. In this respect, the MMU with TR Motor engines could fit that bill.

In parallel to the MMU, Turkey is also developing the Hürjet. Initially designed as a lead-in-fighter-training (LIFT) aircraft to replace Turkey’s T-38s, the Hürjet may evolve into a more versatile platform.

Turkey is intending to develop an armed variant of the Hürjet to serve as a lightweight multirole fighter. It is likely that a key driver for this requirement is the fact that the MMU is a large twin-engine aircraft, so the Turkish Air Force (TuAF) may require a lighter complementary fighter for roles that do not require the range, payload, or technology capabilities offered by the MMU. Turkey will also look to export the Hürjet overseas to countries in need for lower-cost fighters to replace their old generation aircraft.

Interestingly, Turkey is also studying the idea of using the Hürjet as a carrier-borne fighter for the Turkish Navy’s landing helicopter dock (LHD), TCG Anadolu.[7] Turkey had intended to deploy F-35Bs from the TCG Anadolu, but Ankara’s fallout with Washington over the S-400 resulted in Turkey’s ejection from the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. However, Ankara still intends to build a naval airpower element, and is clearly willing to leverage its domestic industry to develop a serviceable solution.

The challenge with converting a lightweight, land-operable design into a carrier fighter is that the changes will result in additional weight and structural complexity. India had tried this approach with the Tejas, and the result did see successful demonstration from the Indian Navy’s (IN) carrier, INS Vikramaditya.[8] But the range and payload limitations of the Naval Tejas led India to design the Twin-Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF), i.e., an aircraft designed for carrier operations from the onset.

Turkey is likely starting with Hürjet because it already completed the design work for the aircraft, so it is looking to save from avoiding the need to design an entirely new fighter. However, there is a chance that Turkey may end up designing another fighter to supplement the MMU.

Basically, it is unlikely that the TuAF would replace its entire F-16 fleet with the MMU. The latter is a larger that is likely suited for offensive operations, including deep-strike (especially in lieu of the F-35). An armed Hürjet could be the lightweight complement, but it will offer less range and payload than the F-16. Thus, there could be a gap for a single-engine, medium-weight aircraft. This design may work for the TN too.

With the TuAF upgrading its F-16s, a direct replacement would not come until after domestic MMU orders are complete. However, the groundwork to pursue such a design is being set via the MMU. For example, Turkey can reuse the TR Motor engine as well as Aselsan radar and avionics. It could potentially use digital engineering approaches to study re-using parts of the MMU design so as to cut development costs.

In any case, the pursuit of a new 4.5+ generation design to complement the 5th-generation MMU would not be unprecedented. India is already working towards it via the TEDBF, and the U.S. Air Force is looking at the idea as a means to replace its F-16s.[9]

For Turkey, a major bottleneck is affordability. This is a reason why Ankara is inviting other countries to co-invest in the MMU and/or Hürjet. If it continues emphasizing key details such as being ITAR-free and/or production and IP-sharing, it could ultimately secure those partners.

The final question would be whether Turkey and/or its partners would succeed in developing the feeder industries necessary to manufacture the MMU and potentially other aircraft without the input of existing industrialized centres, such as the United States, Western Europe, Russia and/or China.

If all things emerge as planned (i.e., foreign partnerships, continued investment in critical inputs and long-term continuity), the feeder industry question would be Turkey’s final and, arguably, most difficult wall to climb. As one can see with China, this struggle for endure for decades before Turkey can comfortably say it can indigenously source solutions at-par with those it could buy from overseas.

[1] “National Combat Aircraft Will Make Its First Flight in 2025, Enter Inventory in 2029.” Railly News. 14 March 2021. URL:

[2] Burak Ege Bekdil. “General Electric beats Rolls-Royce to power Turkey’s indigenous fighter jet. Defense News. 31 October 2018. URL:

[3] “Homegrown fighter jet to fly with domestic engine by 2029.” Daily Sabah. 10 January 2020. URL:

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Turkey’s TAI rolls up its sleeves for new unmanned aerial aircraft.” Daily Sabah. 30 March 2021. URL:

[6] “Turkish Aerospace & TRMOTOR Signs Protocol for the Development of MMU`s Power Units.” Defence Turkey. Issue 105. Volume 15. 2021. URL:

[7] “Aircraft carrier version of the HÜRJET fighter jet may come.” Railly News. 30 March 2021. URL:

[8] Rahul Singh. “Naval version of Tejas LCA lands on INS Vikramaditya for first time.” Hindustan Times. 23 August 2020. URL:

[9] Valerie Insinna. “US Air Force eyes budget-conscious, clean-sheet fighter jet to replace the F-16.” Defense News. 18 February 2021. URL:

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