Turkey is a member of NATO and a critical geopolitical partner, and has been an F-35 partner nation since the project’s official inception in 1999. The country is slated to acquire 100 F-35A CTOL models, with the first batch of 14 already contracted, making it the fourth largest F-35 buyer after the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom.
Turkey is increasingly becoming a leader in aerospace manufacturing, and Turkish companies are expected to contribute about $12 billion worth of parts for the F-35.
On June 18, 2018, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that blocks the transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey due to Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense missile systems. A few days later, on June 21, Turkey took delivery of its first two aircraft at a ceremony held in Fort Worth, Texas. For now, the aircraft are stationed at Luke Air Force Base for pilot training.
On February 19, 2019, President Donald Trump signed into law the suspension of F-35 deliveries to Turkey.
With Turkey firmly standing its ground on its decision to procure Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, the nation’s future role as a partner nation on the F-35 program is in question. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly relevant to take a close look at the role Turkey’s defense industrial base is playing in regards to the F-35 program.
If Turkey is kicked off the program, the nation’s statement of work (SOW) will be up for grabs, so it should come as no surprise that rival F-35 suppliers are following the situation closely. While Turkey’s SOW can certainly be absorbed by the existing supply chain, the nation’s involvement in the program is massive and all the work cannot simply be moved overnight without causing major program delays. In practice, it will be a gradual step-by-step process where some work packages will be easier to move than others.
In a letter sent to the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chairman in July 2018, then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that removing all Turkish suppliers from the program could delay delivery of 50-75 aircraft for up to 18-24 months.
The largest Turkish F-35 supplier is Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), which has been supporting the F-35 program since 2008. TAI’s most complex work package is the manufacture and assembly of center fuselages as a second-source supplier. Northrop Grumman in El Segundo, California, is the main center fuselage producer and TAI is supposed to deliver 400 F-35 center fuselages.
TAI also produces weapon bay doors and center fuselage composite skins and panels. Furthermore, the company manufactures the aircraft’s composite air inlet ducts. Some years ago, these were built by Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman) and are produced with automated fiber placement (AFP) equipment.
TAI also builds 45 percent of all the F-35’s air-to-ground pylons (a precision-machined high-tolerance aluminum structure), with Terma Aerostructures in Denmark (45%) and Marvin Engineering in Inglewood, California (10%), making the rest. The air-to-ground pylons carry ordnance and external stores and are part of the aircraft’s Alternate Mission Equipment (AME) package.
Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is the largest Turkish F-35 supplier. The company’s most complex work package is the production and assembly of center fuselages as a second source supplier to Northrop Grumman. Source: Turkish Aerospace Industries
Other Turkish Suppliers
-- Alp Aviation:
On the program since 2004, Alp manufactures metal airframe structures and assemblies, landing gear components, and over 100 F135 engine parts.
Sole source supplier of two key F-35 components – the missile remote interface unit and the panoramic cockpit display.
-- Fokker Elmo Turkey (GKN):
Manufactures 40 percent of the F-35 Electrical Wiring and Interconnection System (EWIS) and also supports TAI in the production of all center fuselage wiring systems. Fokker Elmo has also developed the EWIS for the F135 engine, of which a major share is produced by the company at its facility in Izmir.
Has been supporting the F-35’s training systems since 2005. Additionally, the company has been instrumental as the Turkish lead in developing the construct of the future Turkish F-35 Integrated Pilot and Maintenance Training Center (ITC) and associated training systems in Turkey.
-- Kale Aerospace:
F-35 supplier since 2005. In conjunction with TAI, it manufactures and produces F-35 airframe structures and assemblies. Kale also supports Heroux Devtek as the sole-source supplier of landing gear up-lock assemblies. Additionally, Kale has established a joint venture in Izmir with Pratt & Whitney and is manufacturing production hardware for the F135 engine.
-- Roketsan and TÜBİTAK SAGE:
Has partnered with Lockheed Martin to develop, integrate, and produce the precision-guided standoff missile (SOM-J) that will be carried in the F-35’s weapon bays. SOM-J is designed for use against heavily defended, high-value anti-surface warfare (ASuW) and land targets.