Two Turkish F-16s fly alongside a US Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker over the North Sea.(Photo US Air Force)
March 21, 2015 By Burak Ege Bekdil – Defense News
ANKARA — Turkey's government and military leaders have agreed to speed up the country's crawling program for the design, development and production of an indigenous fighter jet.
Officials here said there is a broad "administrative agreement" over a need to give the program a boost.
"The program will gain notable pace after the [parliamentary] elections [on June 7]," said one senior procurement official familiar with the program, dubbed TF-X. "There is consensus among the president [Recep Tayyip Erdogan], prime minister [Ahmet Davutoglu] and the Air Force that the program should go ahead with a 'priority tag.' "
An Air Force official assisting the program said the top brass in the service is "keen to go faster than before."
"Maximum [expert] input possible will be provided from our side," he said. "This is now an established policy."
Early in March, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM) procurement agency released a request for information (RFI) for the ambitious TF-X.
In that document, SSM defined the scope of the fighter program as "indigenous design, development and production activities of the first Turkish fighter aircraft to meet Turkish Armed Forces' next generation fighter requirements and replace the existing F-16 fighter fleet starting from 2030s."
Companies or organizations capable of designing, developing and manufacturing the planned aircraft are invited to obtain an electronic copy of the RFI from SSM.
SSM officials say the release of the RFI marks a critical stage for the program, aiming "to see which companies would be willing to take part and which capabilities will be offered."
"We expect a satisfactory level of international interest," the procurement official said. "We already unofficially know that a number of foreign manufacturers hope to be part of this program."
He said a new roadmap also has been devised. The first thing Ankara will do, he said, is put together a team of SSM and Air Force officials that will be expected to run the program until the end.
"Soon there will formally be an enthusiastic team working on the ideal modality for the program," the official said. "That team is being structured at the moment."
Turkey's top procurement panel, the Defense Industry Executive Committee, chaired by Davutoglu, officially decided on Jan. 7 to go ahead with the TF-X program after reviewing its feasibility.
At the meeting, the committee decided to move beyond the pre-concept design stage. It said a twin-engine model would be pursued in the national fighter aircraft program.
Other members of the committee are Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, Chief of Military General Staff Gen. Ncdet Ozel and chief procurement official, Ismail Demir, head of the SSM.
Davutoglu has said that a twin-engine model would be pursued in the national fighter aircraft program.
But the procurement official said this is not an irreversible decision. "We remain flexible on the choice of engine modality. Depending on our choice of a base model we may rethink that," he said.
He also said the "base model" could be both a NATO or a non-NATO product.