BUSINESS > Bets open on Turkey’s first fighter aircraft

Burak Bekdil ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News

Turkish arms manufacturer TAI has signed a technical assistance deal with Swedish Saab to build a fighter jet, but analysts remain skeptical about the feasibility of an indigenous Turkish fighter

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A JAS - 39 Gripen fighter, manufactured by Swedish aerospace and defense company Saab, is seen. Turkish Aerospace (TAI) has signed a preliminary deal with Saab to work on developing a Turkish fighter.

A JAS - 39 Gripen fighter, manufactured by Swedish aerospace and defense company Saab, is seen. Turkish Aerospace (TAI) has signed a preliminary deal with Saab to work on developing a Turkish fighter.

It is no secret that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been passionate about two “made in Turkey” vehicles: a car and a fighter aircraft. Interestingly, Turkish officials have found one company that builds both and could help Turkey design and develop indigenous models. Talks with Sweden’s Saab for a Turkish fighter jet are inching forward but industry sources and analysts remain skeptical.

Turkish officials have been in talks with Saab (and with Korean Aerospace Industries) to find the best modality for this ambitious project since 2010 and 2011. In August 2011, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), signed a deal with Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) to carry out the conceptual design work for fighter and jet trainer aircraft Turkey hopes to build.

In recent months a Turkish delegation, including SSM officials, visited Saab headquarters and production facilities in Sweden. And more recently, TAI and Saab penned a preliminary agreement for technical assistance which will pave the way for a subsequent support deal. As part of the planned agreement, TAI is expected to acquire Saab’s aircraft design tools.

Designing the first ever Turkish fighter, according to defense analysts, is a necessary but not critical step. “What is crucial here is whether this project would enable Turkey to earn capabilities to successfully integrate avionics, electronics and weapon systems into the chosen platform,” a London-based analyst said.

Saab is the maker of the JAS 39 Gripen, a lightweight single-engine multi-role fighter. It was designed to replace the Saab 35 Draken and 37 Viggen in the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet). Saab has cooperated with other aerospace companies in marketing the aircraft internationally, and has achieved moderate success in Central Europe, South Africa and Southeast Asia. More than 240 Gripens have been delivered or ordered.

In 2010, Sweden awarded Saab a four-year contract to improve the Gripen’s equipment, integrate new weapons, and lower its operating costs. In August, Sweden announced it planned to buy 40 to 60 Gripen NG. The Swedish order followed Switzerland’s decision to buy 22 of the E/F variants.

US dependency on fighters

For its fighter program, dubbed the TF-X, Turkey hopes to copy the modality it had devised to co-produce the T-129 attack helicopters with the Italian-British AgustaWestland. “We think this model has worked successfully and could be a template for our fighter program,” said one aviation official. But defense sources here said the program was exposed to the risk of a prolonged conceptual design and this would make the whole project “not very meaningful.”

“Turkey hopes to fly its national fighter by 2023. This is not a realistic target,” said one source. “If the conceptual design work takes about seven to eight years from now on, the technology on which the design will be based would be too old at the production stage. You may need a time machine to efficiently use the aircraft.”

Major weapons makers are also cautious and skeptical. “We wanted to help Turkey out with its ambitions to design and develop its own fighter jet. But we had to step back when we understood that the technical requirements for the aircraft are far from being realistic,” said a top official from a Western aircraft maker.

Another Western defense executive commented: “We have been working with the Turks for decades. And we fear Turkey may end up keeping an arsenal of second-class weapons systems built at home at exorbitant prices.”

Turkey, whose present fighter fleet is made up of U.S.-made aircraft, also plans to buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a next-generation, multinational program also led by the United States. But Turkish officials say they want to develop another future jet fighter with a country other than the United States to reduce Turkey’s overdependence on Washington.


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Notice on comments

mr who

5/27/2013 3:02:29 PM

The Turkish industrial base is to small at this stage, so the Swedish jet co production not being a real jet fighter but it is a good start learning and acquiring knowledge and creating innovation within Turkish engineers

Mohamed Al Hashimi

3/23/2013 5:26:04 PM

Turkey could save millions of dollars in producing local aircrafts which will open gate for Turkey to start new department for produing aircrafts.

B Medic

3/21/2013 2:33:10 PM

@Tekion: Saab Aerospace sold off its car division in 1968. The aerospace/defence company is doing well, though sales of JAS 39 have been disappointing: The aeroplane is great value for money; fast, versatile, easy to fly and to maintain. But pressure from US on many countries to buy American fighters instead of JAS has been very strong, especially on NATO-members. Saab has lost many JAS-deals because of that. We will see how things go in Turkey.

Eric Martin

3/21/2013 1:02:52 AM

I don't want any foreign involvement. If we rely on foreigners then when will stand up by ourselves? We can build this by ourselves. We don't need the latest and greatest 5th generation fighter that costs a BILLION dollars a peace. Build our own. Where are our own engineers? Hiding?Why do these articles always need to ask a 'Western aircraft maker'. What do you expect them to say. Do you think Sweden cared what foreign government thought when building it's own planes? Disagree wit Murat

cezer "çapulcu" skonore

3/20/2013 10:02:28 PM

As far as I know, Korea was looking for partners for the fighter jet production. For a while, they negotiated with Endonesia but I don't know what happen with that. Of course, Korean intelligence did not help the negotiations. Korean intelligence officers wanted to steal information from the laptop of the Endonesian minister, but spotted by the hotel personnel and had to run away, chased by the police and hotel personnel on the streets, it was a great embarrassment.


3/20/2013 8:33:00 PM

Stanko & Steve, never underestimate the imagination of Turkish nationalists, their overbearing pride leads them to think anything they think is true. Sometimes it's funny, but with the sensitive character of these people, sometimes it's not.


3/20/2013 7:29:31 PM

A complete waste. Time for piloted fighters has passed. Expensive hubris.

Brit in Turkey

3/20/2013 7:04:22 PM

jim handley: It is argued by some that the Eurofighter is better than the F35 in many ways. And isn't Airbus giving Boeing a run for its money? Funny that the USA bought the rights to the British Harrier jump jet. Are not some of this built into the F35 STOL version? You'll be telling us next that the USA made the first working programmable computer.

Tekion Particle

3/20/2013 5:40:51 PM

Didn't Saab's car manufacturing business go under? How can you call something indigenous if you have to get an outsider design and built it and also keep importing the vital technology needed to built it. I think they have to look up the meaning of the word indigenous it does not mean what they think it is.

Steve Bruce

3/20/2013 3:16:31 PM

@Dutch Turk- The prop engined trainer which has been in the works since 2006 is not ready to fly yet. The first test flight is scheduled for mid 2013
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