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Türkiye Reaches Key Milestones Across Aviation Programs

Turkish Aerospace Industries (TUSAŞ) successfully rolled out the first prototype of its flagship project, the Milli Muharip Ucak (MMU) next-generation fighter aircraft (NGFA). TUSAŞ also unveiled the prototype of its own unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), the ANKA-3, which was previously designated the TİSU.

The showing of the two prototype platforms arguably establishes Türkiye’s intent and emerging capacity to indigenously design, develop, and manufacture its future air warfare solutions.

First MMU (TFX) Prototype is Complete and Ready for Testing

Photo Source: Ismail Demir (Head of Turkiye’s Presidency of Defense Industries)

On March 17, the head of Türkiye’s Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB), Dr. Ismail Demir, announced that TUSAŞ successfully carried out the taxiing test of its first MMU prototype.

This specific unit will not fly. Rather, TUSAŞ will use it to carry out ground-based tests to gauge key aspects of the aircraft, like its subsystems and integration work, among other areas.

That said, MMU program seems to be running according to the schedule set in 2021. TUSAŞ said it aimed to roll out a prototype in 2023 and, in turn, carry out a test flight in 2025.[1] The first MMU prototypes and initial production variant will use the General Electric (GE) F110 turbofan engine.

Türkiye is also aiming to fly a variant powered by a domestic engine by 2029. TR Motor, which is a joint venture of TUSAŞ and SSTEK (a state-owned R&D bureau), is developing the indigenous engine.

In fact, it should be noted that Türkiye is aiming to indigenously source every critical input of the MMU, be it engine, radar and avionics, onboard oxygen generation system, and weapon systems. Thus, there is a clear focus on ensuring the aircraft is immune to supply-side blockages or interference.

Türkiye initiated the MMU in 2010 with the aim of developing a next-generation fighter aircraft (NGFA) to both replace the F-16 and complement the F-35. In 2017, TUSAŞ contracted BAE Systems for technical support in designing and developing the MMU.

That same year, TUSAŞ also revealed the specifications of the MMU. Originally, the design had a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 27,215 kg, roughly similar in size to the Chinese FC-31. It was supposed to use two engines, each with a maximum thrust of 88.9 kN.

However, Türkiye changed its plans and, instead, worked on a larger design. Though it did not reveal the MTOW of the revised model, the aircraft would instead use two General Electric (GE) F110 engines. These turbofans would generate a maximum thrust of 131.2 kN.

While the decision to choose the GE F110 made technical sense considering Türkiye had built decades of operational and industrial experience with that powerplant, other dynamics may have forced its hand to change its course. Indeed, since it had planned on indigenous turbofan engines, it would have needed to eventually adapt to a new powerplant platform anyways.

Basically, it seems that Türkiye required a larger fighter to offset the loss of the F-35 Lightning II. Prior to being ejected from the program, the Turkish Air Force had planned to deploy the F-35 and MMU together, and the F-35 would have been the principal strike aircraft. In contrast, the MMU was supposed to be the medium-weight multirole aircraft (that would have replaced the fleet’s F-16s).

By moving towards a larger airframe, TUSAŞ could be creating space for a strike-optimized variant of the MMU in the future. Interestingly, there are signs on the first prototype suggesting that a strike role could potentially materialize sooner in the aircraft’s development cycle.

For example, the prototype is seemingly equipped with an electro-optical tracking system (EOTS) which is configured in a distributed way. The sensors are present on both the top and bottom of the nosecone. It is possible that one sensor set is for air-to-air tracking (like infrared-search-and-track), while the other can play an air-to-surface role analogous to the EOTS used onboard the F-35.

Likewise, by moving to a larger airframe, this MMU version could potentially have a greater payload in its internal bay compared to the version Türkiye was originally planning for prior to its exit from the F-35.

That said, the MMU is not the only piece of Türkiye’s air warfare plans. Like its contemporaries across the West and East, Türkiye is also aggressively working towards incorporating advanced drones.

Türkiye Reveals its Second Stealth UCAV

Photo Source: Temel Kotil (General Manager of Turkish Aerospace)

TUSAŞ also officially revealed its ANKA-3 UCAV. Initially designated the TİSU, the Anka-3 reportedly has an MTOW of 7,000 kg and a cruising speed of Mach 0.7.

The ANKA-3 was an interesting revelation as its specifications are similar to the Bayraktar Kızılelma, which is produced by Baykar Group, a private sector defence contractor that specializes in drones.

It is not clear if the ANKA-3 is meant to complement the Kızılelma, or if the two platforms will compete for orders in the Turkish Air Force and, potentially, the Turkish Navy. Both designs are reportedly capable of carrier-borne operations, which is a key long-term priority for the Turkish Navy.

In any case, the availability of these UCAVs could help Türkiye build out its airborne strike capabilities. The most obvious route is to leverage these drones for long-range, high-risk missions, such as suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) operations, among others.

However, it is also possible that the Turkish Air Force is planning to lean on UCAVs as a way of building a dedicated strike capability in lieu of the F-35. In a way, the U.S.’ refusal to release the F-35 to Türkiye may have accelerated stealthy UCAV development. In fact, even with an accelerated roadmap, the MMU may still be several variants away from being a credible strike platform; the bulk of that role could initially go to an assortment of jet-powered and turboprop-powered UCAVs.

Like the MMU, Türkiye is also working on domestically sourcing the powerplants for its UCAVs. The main turbofan programs for this goal are TUSAŞ Engine Industries’ (TEI) TF-6000 and TF-10000. However, it will be worth seeing if Türkiye leverages the TR Motor program to develop an even larger UCAV in the future.

Türkiye’s First Leap to Aerospace Prominence

While it is still too early to call these programs a success, completing the prototypes of two complex fast jets is a significant milestone. In fact, Türkiye is now among a rare group of countries that not only possess these types of aircraft, but can domestically produce them (albeit as prototypes).

However, manufacturing prototypes are just the first step of a long and, arguably, arduous development process that will test Türkiye across many fronts, be it technologically, industrially, or economically. No doubt, Türkiye made a genuine leap, but its climb to become an aerospace power has only begun.

That said, by emerging, Türkiye gives hope to many countries of a ‘third way’ or alternative to the sharply-divided East and West split. States like Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and even others in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, have long straddled the line to work with both Western and Eastern superpowers. By walking this fine line, these countries often have to make trade-offs that could potentially put access to cutting-edge military technology at risk.

Thus, Türkiye could look to offering an unaligned opportunity for that technology. This angle could give it an opening to generate a large user base for its aircraft, forge industrial partnerships to reduce production and lifecycle costs, and expand its pool for funding and skilled workers for R&D.

Basically, Türkiye’s success in aerospace is likely tied to its success in foreign relations, especially in South Asia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.

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

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