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Turkey holding rival talks on aircraft with Koreans, Swedes

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 8/22/2011 12:00:00 AM | ÜMİT ENGİNSOY

Besides an ongoing plan to develop a fighter jet program with the US or Europe, Turkey is seeking to broaden its fleet with a second option. South Korea’s KAI and Sweden’s Saab are the two possible partners, according to a Turkish procurement official. Turkey is supposed to take part in the design of the possible project

Turkey recently had held separate talks with aeronautical officials from South Korea and Sweden for possible cooperation in the design, development and production of a new fighter aircraft in the next decade, a senior procurement official said at the weekend.

“The companies are South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industries [KAI] and Sweden’s Saab,” the official said.

KAI is the manufacturer of several military and civilian aircraft and satellites and is planning to produce the fighter aircraft KF-X. Saab is the maker of the multi-role fighter JAS 39 Gripen.

Turkey, whose present fighter fleet is made up of U.S.-made aircraft, also plans to buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II planes, a next-generation, multinational program also led by the United States.

But Turkish officials privately say they want another future jet fighter to be developed with a country or countries other than the United States, in an effort to reduce the country’s dependence on Washington.

Most of Turkey’s present fleet of F-16 fighters, being modernized by U.S. firm Lockheed Martin, and the planned future F-35s are open to U.S. influence. Only its older F-4 aircraft, modernized by Israel, and its oldest F-16s, being modernized by Turkey itself, technologically are free from this influence, the officials said. But these older aircraft are expected to be decommissioned around 2020.

“Turkey wants part of its fighter aircraft fleet to remain outside the technological and other influence of the United States. It believes this scheme would better fit its national interests,” said one Turkish defense analyst.

So as part of efforts to select a new fighter for the Turkish Air Force, Turkish Aerospace Industries, or TAI, has been tasked with determining the specifications of the new fighter. It has until the end of next year to finish the process.

Turkey in the past has assembled and jointly manufactured some military aircraft, but this is the first time the country’s developing defense industry fully will be involved in the design of a complex weapons system, such as a jet fighter.

The country last year held an initial round of talks with South Korea’s KAI on the matter. But the South Koreans then offered only a 20 percent share of the project to Turkey, with another 20 percent going to Indonesia, opting for 60 percent of the program for themselves. Turkey wants an equal share in the development of a new plane and was quick to reject the offer.

“Now the South Koreans are coming much closer to the idea of equal ownership, and this is positive,” said the Turkish procurement official. “But there are still many more things to be discussed with them.”

 

In the meantime, Turkey continues to be interested in rival programs, and the recent talks with Saab officials reflect this situation, the procurement official said. “Sweden also is a potential partner for us.”

In addition to KAI and Saab, a consortium of European companies, also continues efforts to include Turkey in its program for the Eurofighter Typhoon project. This consortium is Eurofighter, whose members include Italian, German, British and Spanish firms.

Italy’s deputy defense minister said in May that the pan-European Eurofighter Typhoon fighter aircraft was the only viable alternative to U.S. planes in this category, urging Turkey to join the ambitious European-led defense program.

“The Eurofighter is the only alternative to U.S. aircraft, and provides a great relief to world countries,” Guido Crosetto said in Istanbul on the sidelines of the International Defense Industry Fair 2011.

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