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Turkey 2014 | DEFENSE & AEROSPACE | FOCUS: AVIATION

While many of Turkey's ambitions for the aviation sector are still at the testing stages, its potential for the future is clear to see as it aims to become a major international supplier of aircraft.

Recent developments in Turkey's defense and aviation industry have shown the world that is has the potential to be a major player in the arena. The development of an indigenous fighter jet, the local production of a light training aircraft, and the recent addition of Turkish-made ANKA Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance (MALE) UAV highlight the country's ambition moving forward.

Across the whole economy, and not just in the defense sector, Turkey is trying to reduce its reliance on foreign manufacturers, the route being to produce the products it needs domestically. The development of a Turkish-designed fighter jet is a good example of this. Turkey's Air Force is currently the third largest operator of F-16s after the US and Israel. When these jets need replacing, the aim is for them to be homemade. “In December 2010, the Defense Executive Committee, a high-level decision-making body consisting of the Prime Minister, Chief of General Staff, and the Minister of National Defense, decided to launch feasibility studies for a Turkish fighter jet program, aiming to have a national jet by 2023," Muharrem Dörtkaşlı, CEO of Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), explained to TBY. The jet, dubbed the TF-X, would be highly symbolic of the progress made by Turkey in recent years. The designing, implementing, and building of an entirely homemade jet is no mean task and requires a high level of technology and skill. The symbolism is emphasized by the fact that 2023 is also the centenary of the republic, a date when many national plans and projects are hoped to have been completed. A domestically designed and built jet will save the Turkish Air Force a considerable amount of money when it comes to replacing the aging F-16 with a modern and advanced fighter that meets the specific needs of the country. The first phase of the process was completed in September 2013, when the conceptual designs for the aircraft were finished. Swedish company Saab has been mentoring Turkey in the process and was taken on under contract for pre-conceptual design work. Saab has experience in this field, having already designed and built the JAS 39 Gripen, an aircraft currently used by the Swedish Air Force. In the present phase of the TF-X, there are three designs under consideration. The one favored by the Air Force is a single engine with a blended wing-to-fuselage line. There would be a forward set, single-seat cockpit along with the conventional main- and tail-wing appendages. The second concept is similar to the first; however, it has a slightly larger fuselage to accommodate two turbofan engines. The maiden fight is planned for 2023, while officials hope that production will commence in 2021. The planned delivery of the TF-X is for between 2025 and 2035, and it is expected to remain in service until at least 2060.

Another advancement in the Turkish aviation industry is the ANKA-A MALE UAV, which has completed test flights and is about to enter mass production. It was fully designed by Turkish engineers using the help of local manufacturers and industries. Turkey is hoping to get a foothold in the lucrative market for UAVs, estimated to be worth $45 billion globally with 33% of that in the MALE class. TAI aims to target the MENA region, Asia Pacific, and South America, as well as its NATO allies, for example, when selling the drone internationally. In July 2012, TAI also announced that it had begun research on a high altitude, long endurance (HALE) UAV named the ANKA +A, which unlike its predecessor would be armed and largely undertake “hunter killer" missions. TAI is also considering a larger (five plus ton), turbo-propped UAV called the ANKA-TP, which would have a 23-meter wing span, somewhat larger than the 17.3 meters of the ANKA-A, and fly at an altitude of 40,000 feet and above. While the domestic UAV industry is getting off the ground, the government is hoping to fill some of the gaps in service with the US-made Reaper drone. In the past, Turkey has made requests for US congressional approval for the purchase of armed Reaper drones, which have been denied. However, now it hopes to follow suit with France, which recently negotiated a deal in February 2013 for the sale of 16 MQ-9 Reapers at a cost of $1.5 billion. The French sale included almost everything that the Turks, and in the past the French, requested, minus the arms. The French made their successful request for the Reaper to use in reconnaissance and surveillance, which is the path that Turkey may also follow as it is considering submitting a new bid to the US Congress for unarmed Reaper drones.

The Air Force is also in the process of acquiring new light trainer aircraft for its pilots. It wants to replace 40 of its aging SF 260s to train its pilots, and recently instigated an international competition to supply 52 new trainer aircraft for its fleet. The contract is expected to be worth around $75 million and numerous international bidders have come forward, including Beechcraft and Cirrus, Diamond, Grobe, Czech Zlin, and Aermacchi. TAI is also currently testing its Hürkuş trainer aircraft, with the first prototype passing its test in February 2014 with flying colors. Once on the market, the Hürkuş will come in four classes, the Hürkuş-A, the Hürkuş-B, the Hürkuş-C, and a Coast Guard version. The Hürkuş-A will be marketed for the civilian market, while the B will feature advanced avionics similar to that of F-16 and F-35 fighter jets. The C will be an armed version, which the military has expressed an interest in as a support aircraft for its attack helicopters. The C will be able to carry a payload of 3,300 pounds and provide close-air support. The Coast Guard version will, of course, be centered around maritime activities, with the back seat occupied by an infra-camera operator. The Hürkuş will have a service life of 35 years, or 10,500 hours, and will be able to fly at a cruising altitude of 10,577 meters at 574 kilometers per hour.