Syeda Zainab Hameed Gillani l
Turkey is set to join the prestigious block of countries who are manufacturing advanced 5th generation fighter jets but the journey is going to be full of hurdles due to technical as well as strategic constraints. In recent years, Turkey has developed a variety of air, land and naval systems for its military in a bid to make it more indigenous so the country can rely less on foreign suppliers. In September 2018, the Turkish president said that in its military operations 65 percent of the weapons Turkey uses are indigenous. Turkey, he said, would have faced more obstacles when undertaking military operations if we had not reached this level.
Turkey unveiled its first indigenous multi-role helicopter in September 2018, the T-625. It expects mass production of this helicopter to begin after 2021. The country has also built some formidable missiles. In 2017 it introduced the Bora ballistic missile, which has a range of 280 kilometers, following years of working with China on missile development. In September, Turkey test-fired its indigenous-built cruise missile, the SOM-B2, which successfully penetrated the concrete roof of a bunker. Turkey plans to use the missile to destroy similar hardened targets in combat. In October 2018, President Erdogan announced that Turkey had started work on its first long-range air defence missile, the ‘Siper’. He claimed the project, which is seeing Turkey’s biggest defence firms collaborate to develop, will deliver its first system by the end of 2021.
Turkey is also developing a short-range surface-to-air missile system called the Hisar-A which it test-fired in March. Turkey said the missile scored a 100 percent success against a target aircraft flying fast at a high altitude. The mobile missile system, which has a range of 15 km, is expected to be delivered in 2021. Turkey has a very limited air defence systems primarily consisting of very old medium-range British Rapier and American MIM-23 air defence missiles. It started taking delivery of the much new, more sophisticated and longer-range Russian S-400s this summer. In November 2018, an agreement was signed for the Turkish arms manufacturing company Roketsan to build large numbers of long-range radar-guided anti-ship cruise missiles.
Turkish Aerospace Industries revealed a full-scale model of its indigenous 5th generation fighter jet TF-X in France at an airshow. The jet is planned to be inducted into operation by 2025 as announced by Turkey and the revelation of a model comes at a time when Turkey is being unfurled as the partner from the F-35 program. Turkey is determined to make TF-X jet as the top choice among the jets offered by European aerospace industries. “This will be the best fighter in Europe, able to carry the Meteor missile — which is the best European missile — in the weapon bay,” CEO and President of Turkish Aerospace Industries Temel Kotil said. “Hopefully this will be also a good fighter for NATO and the NATO allies.”
Apparently, the outlook of TF-X is strikingly similar to that of U.S made F-35 fighter jets but the former is more sleek and narrow in design compared to latter. Though the model presented is to take years into effect and only then the salient features of the jets can thoroughly be compared to rest of the 5th generation fighter jets manufactured around the world, especially the F-35. However, as per the informational video released by Turkish Aeronautical Industries, the jet is able to carry the maximum takeoff weight of 60,000 pounds, can attain the top speed of Mach 2.0, double the speed of sound, and has a combat radius of 600 nautical miles. The contrasting feature of TF-X compared to F-35 is the considerably greater top speed which for F-35 is Mach 1.60.
Experts are skeptical over potential of manufacturing a 5th generation fighter jet on its own. These concerns were addressed by President of Turkish Aerospace Industries saying, “On the F-35, actually, my company is building the center fuselage. So this means, in terms of manufacturing, Turkish Aerospace has enough strength to build this fighter. Our machine is a mock-up, but in 2023 there will be a real machine, and the first flight is in 2025, and [it will be in] service in 2028.”
While it is true that Turkey has been a crucial supplier of the parts of F-35 and it is the reason why shunning Turkey from the program will take time, but building a 5th generation fighter jets come with challenges which are beyond the aptness for manufacturing. Such an extravagant program is only viable if the product has a demand across the world. It comes with an additional challenge of incorporating the changes which the buyers demand as per the topographical setting where the machine is to be operated. For instance, part of the reason why the F-35 program is way overdue is the different nature of demands which the US Air Force and Navy have put in before it can be procured from Lockheed Martin.
Turkey’s participation is indeed a good addition to the queue of countries producing 5th generation fighter jets as it will enable the buyers, which might include third world countries in coming years, a broad range of choice best suited for their needs.
Syeda Zainab Hameed Gillani is pursuing career in law and has deep interest in international law and contemporary affairs.