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Fightercraft makers battle for lucrative Turkish market

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 11/28/2010 12:00:00 AM | ÜMİT ENGİNSOY

Two of the world's largest military aircraft manufacturers are competing to sell scores of new-generation fighter jets to the Turkish Air Force.

Two of the world's largest military aircraft manufacturers are competing to sell scores of new-generation fighter jets to the Turkish Air Force.

The rivals are a U.S.-led consortium that makes the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, or JSF, Lightning II and Europe's Eurofighter consortium, which is marketing the Eurofighter Typhoon.

The playing field, however, is unequal as Turkey has already selected the JSF as its next fighter aircraft type and plans to buy about 100 F-35 aircraft worth nearly $15 billion. Many Turkish companies are members of the nine-nation JSF consortium and are producing parts for the aircraft.

The Eurofighter consortium is a relative newcomer. It is not trying to prevent Turkey's planned business with the JSF consortium, but is seeking to sell additional aircraft, according to officials with the group, who said the two planes would complement each other.

Italian Deputy Defense Minister Guido Crosetti discussed a potential future deal for the Eurofighter Typhoon with Turkish procurement chief Murad Bayar during a visit to Ankara earlier this month. Italy's Alenia Aeronautica is a member of the Eurofighter consortium.

Crosetti called for the creation of strategic relations between the two NATO nations' defense industries.

It is mostly an uphill race for the European company, as its rival already has taken a major lead.

Giorgio Zappa, director general of the Italian industrial conglomerate Finmeccanica, the parent company of Alenia Aeronautica, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review earlier this month that the Turkish Air Force could accommodate both fighter aircraft.

"Britain and Italy are doing that," Zappa said, referring to the Eurofighter and JSF's different functions. The Eurofighter has been designed mainly as an air-to-air fighter while the F-35 is more suitable for air-to-ground missions.

In the event Turkey decides to buy the Eurofighter, these aircraft would replace the older U.S.-made F-4E Phantoms, recently modernized by Israel.

[HH] Joint development

"We are offering Turkey the opportunity to jointly develop the Eurofighter 2020, the next version of the Eurofighter," said Marco Valerio Bonelli, top spokesman for Eurofighter. "It wouldn't be the production of parts, but joint development."

If Turkey does not purchase the Eurofighter, it may increase the number of F-35s it would buy to 120, many analysts say.

Some analysts said Turkey should go just for the JSF. "It would be a total luxury for the Turks to buy both aircraft because of the country's limited budget. Two separate aircraft would be overly costly, and the F-35 is capable enough to carry out all needed fighting requirements," said one analyst.

The F-35 is being developed by a consortium led by Lockheed Martin.

Turkey plans to receive the first F-35 in 2016. Until that time Turkey will be buying 30 F-16 Block 50 aircraft, also manufactured by Lockheed, to meet stopgap requirements. Presently, the Turkish Air Force's backbone is its more than 200 older F-16s.

Italy, because of its close political and defense ties with Turkey, has been tasked within the Eurofighter consortium to coordinate potential cooperation with Turkey. In recent years, Italy has become Turkey's largest weapons supplier after the United States.

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