Domestic fighter jet Turkey's best response to F-35 dispute, Erdoğan says

Published 05.02.2020 18:33
A model of Turkey's first domestically developed combat aircraft was introduced at the Paris Air Show in June 2019. AA Photo
A model of Turkey's first domestically developed combat aircraft was introduced at the Paris Air Show in June 2019. (AA Photo)

Turkey developing its own domestically made warplane is the best response to those threatening to end its involvement in the F-35 fighter jet program, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday.

"I hope our warplane, which will use domestic resources at every stage of design and production, will fly out of the hangar in 2023," Erdoğan said during the opening ceremony for a new ammunition facility in central Turkey's Kırıkkale province.

Turkey's first homegrown TF-X National Combat Aircraft (MMU) is being developed under a joint project by the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) and is expected to make a maiden flight using a domestic engine in 2029.

The MMU is a fifth-generation jet with similar features to Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II. The domestically built aircraft is being developed to replace the Turkish Air Forces Command's F-16 fighters, ahead of the gradual phasing out of the latter throughout the 2030s.

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

Turkey's acquisition of the advanced S-400 Russian air defense system prompted the U.S. to remove Turkey from the F-35 program, in which Ankara was formerly a major buyer and manufacturer in July.

The Ankara-Moscow S-400 deal was inked in December 2017, when the parties signed a $2.5 billion agreement for two batteries of the S-400, which is Russia's most advanced long-range anti-aircraft missile system in use since 2007.

The U.S. argued that the system could be used by Russia to covertly obtain classified details on the jet and is incompatible with NATO systems.

Turkey, however, counters that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.

Ankara has repeatedly stressed it was the U.S.' refusal to sell it Patriots that led it to need to seek out other sellers, adding that Russia offered it a better deal, including technology transfers. Turkey even proposed setting up a commission to clarify any technical issues, but the U.S. has so far not responded to this proposal.

Stressing the importance of air defense systems, Erdoğan said that situations faced by Turkey in Libya and Syria show that more attention should be paid to missile defense systems.

Reiterating Turkey's efforts to develop its domestic defense industry, Erdoğan said that by placing the HİSAR-A low-altitude air defense missile system along the Syrian border, Turkey aims to address a gap.

The HİSAR air defense missile system was developed by leading defense contractors ASELSAN and ROKETSAN under the coordination of the Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB).

HİSAR missiles are defense weapons developed to protect military bases, ports, facilities and troops against air-based threats as well as to meet the needs of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) for a low and medium-altitude air defense security system. The HİSAR-O medium-altitude air defense missile system, on the other hand, is expected to be in service by 2021.

Erdoğan highlighted that the Turkish defense industry has gone through a significant transformation in the last 17 years as the domesticity rate of the industry jumped to 70% from only 20% at the time.

The HİSAR-A low-altitude air defense missile system, the first domestic maritime missile ATMACA and Turkey's largest-ever warship, the TCG Anadolu, are some of the indigenously produced systems to be added to the inventory of the Turkish military this year.

The tests on Turkey's first homegrown air-to-air missiles Bozdoğan and Gökdoğan were also successfully carried out, Erdoğan noted.

The project for Gökdoğan and Bozdoğan missiles, which was initiated by the Scientific and Technological Research Council's (TÜBİTAK) Defense Industry Research and Development Institute (SAGE), is set to be completed this year.

SAGE will transfer the project to a producer after completion of the development process. SAGE's work on air-to-air missiles began in 2013. It developed Gökdoğan as a short-range, highly maneuverable and infrared seeker, and Bozdoğan as a long-range, active radar seeker missile.

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