The mock-up model of Turkey's first national and domestically developed national combat aircraft, the TF-X, debuted last week at the Paris Air Show. Being developed by Turkish aerospace engine manufacturer, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), the aircraft is expected to be one of the best combat aircraft in the world. Reportedly, the first flight is planned for 2023. In 2017, the Turkish Kale Group established a partnership with British Rolls-Royce to produce an aircraft engine for the TF-X, and a partnership was formed after a $133 million defense deal was signed between Turkey and the U.K. Then, both countries signed a memorandum of understanding when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the U.K. on May 13-15, 2018. Since then, Rolls Royce and Kale have been working to tackle the intellectual property rights issue.
Although, the UK government and the British company give great importance to the project, the issue has not been overcome.
While the British government has frequently expressed commitment to the project and finds it has strategic importance, the situation remains uncertain as to whether Rolls Royce is keen to give Turkey what it wants.
Moreover, Turkey wants the TF-X project to be a multi-partnered program like the F-35 fighter jet partnership, which is a multinational NATO defense project. Other countries, especially in the Asia-Pacific, such as Malaysia, are considered potential partners in the project by Ankara. According to sources, Turkey has already discussed partnership possibilities with other countries, but there is no done-deal yet. Turkey has been waiting for maturation of the project to involve other countries in the first stage.
According to Turkish Defense Industry officials, Turkey holds the same position with regard to intellectual property rights of the TF-X engine. So there is no change in Ankara's red lines on this matter.
Due to the gradual deactivation of F-16 combat aircraft from the Turkish Air Force in the next 10 years, the TF-X project has became more important since there are obstacles for the delivery of F-35s due to the United States coercive actions towards Turkey.
The ongoing dispute between Turkey and the United States around the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program because of Turkey's procurement of the Russian S-400 missile system implies that there might be déjà vu with regard to the TF-X project as well.
Turkey had been trying to purchase an air defense system from the U.S. for some time but was never able to get a commitment from Washington when it was needed most. As the U.S. failed to meet the defense need and deadlines, Turkey turned to Russia and decided to purchase Russia's S-400 missile system in 2017, which caused a major political impasse between the two countries today.
Besides that, in last decade, efforts to increase the share of domestically developed and produced military platforms in the Turkish defense sector have accelerated, and over 65% of products in the Turkish defense sector are produced by domestic means.
In short, Turkey aims to be a fully independent country in the defense industry and doesn't want to deal with anyone or have to rely on any country other than itself. As such Turkey's ambitions and motivation to diversify its partners and alternatives in defense purchases and production processes remain strong, it is also another fact that no country is indispensable unless they agree to Ankara's terms.
In his first public address after the elections at the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, President Erdoğan once again stressed that Turkey will begin receiving its order of Russian S-400 air defense systems in July. With more emphasis on the S-400 issue, the president emphasized that the decision to purchase the Russian-made missile system is directly related to Turkey's sovereign rights. "We will not take a step back from this," he added.
After all, in the light of president's remarks, ongoing obstacles and delays on the engine production of TF-X indicates that Turkey will hold its ground to maintain its national interest no matter how many compromises have to be made.
As time goes by, the project partners of Turkey should reconsider timelines and deadlines before it is too late.