On 28 January, British Prime Minister Theresa May, on an official visit to Istanbul, Turkey, to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced that the UK’s BAE Systems, in partnership with Turkish Aerospace Industries, (TAI) would help design a new ‘fifth generation’ stealth fighter - the TF-X. This agreement, for BAE Systems to help design the TF-X for service in the mid-2020s is a potential lifeline for the UK’s combat aircraft design expertise.
What is TF-X?
Although the configuration is not yet set in stone, Turkey’s goal is to develop its own indigenous (as far as practical) stealth fighter which will replace the Lockheed Martin F-16 in service.
While the Turkish Air Force (which was heavily involved in the 2016 coup attempt) currently flies F-16s and some F-4s and is set to receive around 100 F-35s, the concept for TF-X is that it would be more heavily tilted towards the air superiority mission – as a F-22-class combat aircraft for the mid-2020s. Currently there are three configurations mooted for TF-X – a single engine design, a twin-engine fighter and a highly agile version with canards.
While there is a requirement for a predicted 250 TF-X fighters for the Turkish Air Force itself, reports suggest that TF-X will also be aimed at the wider export market. With F-22 production halted, the F-35 optimised for strike and the other options being mid-life upgrades of the Eurocanards (Eurofighter, Rafale and Gripen) it is possible that the TF-X could turn into an export success in the mid-2020s and beyond for countries looking for a fifth-generation air dominance fighter.
The deal to help design the TF-X, represents a major coup for BAE Systems in keeping a critical part of the UK’s combat aircraft design capability alive."
While BAE Systems will help with design and development, this participation could also open doors to other parts of UK industry for specific systems or components that Turkey is unable to produce in-house. The Rolls-Royce EJ200 engines from the Eurofighter have already been tipped as the powerplant and were the subject of an MoU in 2015. A true stealth fighter may well require a matching engine, and this may also be an opportunity for Rolls-Royce to acquire the necessary expertise.
Other opportunities for UK industry may be in ejection seats (Martin-Baker), HUDs or HMDs (BAE Striker II) - indeed, BAE Systems already supplies its LiteHUD for TAI’s Hurkus basic trainer.
While Turkish defence electronics company ASELAN has already reportedly started work on an AESA radar, there could potentially be other opportunities for UK’s Selex ES (now Leonardo MW) which produces AESA radars for Eurofighter and Gripen as well as EO IRST and EW systems.
Finally, while Turkey’s own state missile house Roketsan boasts an impressive range of weapons, including stand-off missiles, precision bombs and anti-tank missiles, MBDA’s air-to-air portfolio -- ASRAAM and in particular the game-changing Meteor -- would be an ideal fit for a fifth-gen air superiority combat aircraft. (end of excerpt)
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