Initially intended for F-35s, Turkey's SOM-J missiles to be used with national combat jet, UAVs

Published 05.08.2019 00:06

Air-to-surface missiles developed for the F-35 fighter jet could be used with Turkey's locally developed national combat aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the country's industry and technology minister said on Saturday.

Two countries developed the SOM-J cruise missile, said Mustafa Varank during a press briefing at the 22nd National Sky Observation Festival in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya.

The SOM-J is a next-generation, medium-range, all-weather, air-to-surface standoff cruise missile. Stealthy and precise, the SOM-J is designed for use against heavily defended, high-value anti-surface warfare (ASuW) and land targets. These include surface-to-air missile sites, exposed aircraft, strategic assets, command and control centers and naval vessels.

"If the countries in the F-35 program want to buy this type of cruise missile, we can easily sell these missiles even if we are out of the program," he added.

Turkey's locally produced SOM-J cruise missile can also be integrated into Akıncı UAVs produced by leading unmanned air system manufacturer Baykar Makina, said Varank, adding that the apex of the UAV project would be to produce unmanned combat aircraft.

Dubbed "the flying fish," the 5.5-ton Akıncı drone is expected to start test flights soon. The two-engine armed drone will be equipped with a domestically developed sightline and satellite communication system, electronic support pod, multipurpose air radar, synthetic aperture radar and meteorological radar. The platform will operate with various ammunition configurations.

The Akıncı system can reach an altitude of 40,000 feet and has the capability of flying for 24 hours straight. It has the capacity for a useful load of up to 350 kilograms.

"This is the future of UAVs. I believe the Akıncı will have a huge multiplier effect in our defense industry," Varank said.

On the other hand, the TF-X National Combat Aircraft (MMU) is being developed by Turkey's leading aerospace engine designer and manufacturer, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), to replace the F-16 aircraft, which are in the inventory of the Turkish Air Forces Command and will be gradually deactivated as of the 2030s.

The jet is on schedule to make its maiden flight in 2025. The fifth-generation jet has similar features to Lockheed Martin's F-35s jets. The aircraft has new generation features including low visibility, internal gun housing, high maneuverability, increased situational awareness and sensor fusion.

Turkey will, after the U.S., Russia and China, take its place among the countries in the world that have the infrastructure and technology to produce the fifth-generation fighter jet.

Since 2017, Turkey and the U.S. have been at odds over Turkey's decision to buy the S-400 defense missile system. U.S. officials urged Turkey to buy U.S. Patriot missiles, arguing the Russian system would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose U.S. F-35 fighter jets to possible Russian subterfuge.

Turkey, however, emphasized the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance. It has urged the formation of a commission to clarify any technical issues, but the U.S. has failed to respond to this proposal.

The U.S. has threatened sanctions over the purchase, with Turkey responding that any sanctions would be met in kind.

Earlier last month, Washington announced it was taking Turkey out of the F-35 fighter jet program. Following the threats to do so over Ankara's purchase of the S-400, the Trump administration began the process of removing Turkey from the F-35 program. The expulsion is to be completed by the end of March 2020.

Initially having ordered 30 F-35 jets, Turkey intended to buy 116 stealth fighter jets, and the country has already received four of them. However, although Turkey has fulfilled all the necessary financial commitments to the program, its four F-35 fighter jets will not be delivered and the training of Turkish pilots has been suspended.

The U.S. move came after Turkey started receiving S-400 components on June 12. The National Defense Ministry last month said the first part of the delivery was completed, as part of which 30 planeloads of S-400 hardware and equipment were delivered to Ankara from Russia. The delivery is set to continue through April 2020.

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