Turkey’s critical choice: An engine for the fighter or vice versa?

Turkey’s critical choice: An engine for the fighter or vice versa?

BURAK BEKDİL Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey’s critical choice: An engine for the fighter or vice versa

This file photo shows a Swedish Saab Gripen F fighter flying. The Turkish defense procurement body has been receiving mentoring from Saab. REUTERS photo

As Turkey’s defense procurement officials and aviation engineers work day and night to finalize one of the three draft models for what will be the country’s first indigenous fighter jet, they face a most critical challenge: Should Turkey select a jet engine and build an aircraft based on that engine; or should it select an aircraft and then look for the suitable engine?

“The critical issue is the engine. Should we select an engine and design our aircraft in line with that engine, or should we design the aircraft and select the appropriate engine afterwards? This is the main challenge in the program,” said Murad Bayar, Turkey’s chief defense procurement official and head of Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM).

For the highly ambitious fighter jet program, dubbed TF-X, Turkey has been receiving ‘mentoring’ from Sweden’s Saab, maker of the JAS 39 Gripen. “We are content with Saab’s services,” Bayar said.
The Turkish program involves the design, development and production of a “national” fighter jet, and Saab has been under contract for “pre-conceptual design work.”

“We aim to make a decision on the engine in December or January,” Bayar said. “But alternatively, we may decide to work on this a bit more.”

He said that Turkey would choose between European and U.S. engine manufacturers. “In terms of thrust and overall performance, U.S. options come closer to the specifications we have in our mind,” Bayar said.

Three draft models

Ankara has already drafted three models, one of which will likely become its first indigenous fighter.
Saab has been assisting TF-X under a deal that oversees “pre-conceptual design” for
the program.

Saab produces the JAS 39 Gripen, a lightweight, single-engine multirole fighter. The Swedish company has cooperated with other aerospace manufacturers to market the JAS 39 Gripen, but has achieved
only moderate success in Central Europe, South Africa and Southeast Asia. More than
240 Gripens have been delivered or ordered.

In 2010, Saab won a four-year contract from the Swedish government to improve the
Gripen’s equipment, integrate new weapons and lower operating costs. In August 2012, Sweden announced it planned to buy 40 to 60 Gripen NGs. The Swedish order followed Switzerland’s decision to buy 22 E/F variants of the jet.

Turkey aims at a maiden flight for its own fighter aircraft in 2013, the centennial of the country’s foundation. Officials aim at production to commence in 2021, and deliveries to the Air Force are planned between 2025 and 2035. The aircraft is expected to remain in service until 2060.

For its national fighter program, Turkey hopes to copy the method devised to co-produce T-129 attack helicopters with Italian-British AgustaWestland.