- Türkiye-US defense industry relationship is mostly limited by CAATSA sanctions and ITAR rules, unlike UK-based defense firms, which aren't restricted in defense collaborations.
- Türkiye's insufficient support from the US Congress regarding its F-16 proposal led decision-makers to consider alternatives like the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is NATO-compatible.
- Türkiye formally requested 20 Typhoon FGR.Mk 4 aircraft, with an option for 20 more later. Industry experts suggest that if Türkiye signs a contract for 20 Typhoon aircraft with the UK in 2024, their delivery timeline could be between 2028 and 2029.
- The estimated cost of Türkiye's proposed acquisition is projected to be between £4.5 and £5 billion. Experts have highlighted that the F-16s represent the primary option for the Turkish Air Force, with the Typhoon serving as an alternative.
- Advanced-level flying training of Eurofighter Typhoons’ pilots, including air-to-air and air-to-ground combat practices and tactical development, could take about 1 to 1.5 years to reach full combat readiness.
This report presents a detailed examination of the Turkish Air Force (TAF) as of December 2023, with a specific focus on Türkiye’s strategic pivot towards procuring Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.Mk 4 aircraft amidst evolving military needs and international defense dynamics. In the context of Türkiye's exclusion from the F-35 program and the challenges surrounding the F-16 Viper Block70 acquisition, the Typhoon emerges as a critical alternative, signaling a possible change in Türkiye’s air force procurement and military sustainment strategy. The report delves into the technical, operational, and financial aspects of integrating the Typhoon into the TAF’s arsenal, highlighting the aircraft's relevance in Türkiye's endeavor to modernize and enhance its aerial combat capabilities. By exploring the geopolitical implications, the article offers a nuanced understanding of the complexities involved in Türkiye's defense procurement, particularly in the context of NATO compatibility and the broader transatlantic defense landscape.
1. Current Status of the Turkish Air Force as of December 2023
The Turkish Air Force (TAF) currently operates a fleet primarily composed of approximately 240 F-16C/D Fighting Falcon and 48 F-4E 2020 aircraft. These fighters are supported by seven KC-135R tankers and four E-7T Barış Kartalı airborne early warning and control aircraft. In accordance with the TAF’s current status, Türkiye had initially planned to procure 100 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft before Türkiye was removed from the F-35 fighter jet program.
This exclusion was a consequence of CAATSA sanctions imposed on Türkiye’s Defense Industry Agency (DIA) following the acquisition of the Russian made S-400 long range missile system. This purchase was aimed at modernizing the TAF’s aging fleet of F-16 aircraft. Türkiye’s exclusion from the F-35 program changed the country’s initial strategy to enhance its air force capabilities, transitioning from the F-16s to the more advanced F-35 fighter jets. In this vein, Türkiye's expulsion led its military and defense leadership to reassess and restructure their strategic planning of TAF without the F-35s.
In response, TAF has shifted its focus to enhancing domestic aviation & aerospace capabilities, especially with the development of the fifth-generation newly named as TAI TF Kaan formerly known as TF-X. This national air fighter project is regarded as a long-term state policy by key executives in the defense industry, aligning with the substantial progress made in the localization of the Turkish defense industry. The program aims to develop an advanced combat aircraft to meet TAF’s future needs into the late 2030s, potentially replacing the older F-16 Fighting Falcons.
Although Türkiye's military industry has achieved significant advancements in this endeavor, the aircraft is not yet operationally ready, underscoring a pressing requirement in TAF’s air power structure. It is also suggested by various sources that the ongoing advanced combat aircraft might join the Turkish TAF’s arsenal by 2035 under optimistic forecasts, or by 2040 if the outlook is more pessimistic.
1.1 Challenges in the Turkish F-16 Viper Block70 Procurement Proposal: Navigating Political Hurdles and Exploring Alternatives
In response to TAF’s needs in its air force capability, the Turkish Ministry of Defense has formally proposed to the Pentagon an urgent procurement of 40 new 4.5 generation F-16 Block 70 aircraft from the United States, accompanied by 80 upgrade kits to modernize the TAF’s current fleet of 4.0-generation F-16s in March 2021. Despite securing high political support from the Pentagon and the White House, this initiative is encountering significant resistance within the US Congress, which is hindering its advancement.
Under normal circumstances between Türkiye and the US, experts emphasize that, similar to past periodical procurements by the TAF and DIA, the sale of F-16s would typically be managed as a military and technical matter rather than a political issue. However, Türkiye’s request, made in March 2021, to purchase F-16s from the US faced a lengthy delay. The request for the Ministry of Defense to acquire new aircraft only began the process of Congressional approval in January 2023, during a period when these aircraft were urgently needed by Türkiye.
Since its informal introduction to Congress in January 2023, the proposal’s advancement has been hindered with political motivations for 11 months due to active counter lobbying by Armenian and Greek groups against Türkiye’s proposal as well as long term unsolved issues between US and Türkiye. Amidst the challenges, Türkiye’s diminished support from the Israeli interest groups in Washington, D.C., particularly due to conflict between Israel and Hamas, has negatively impacted the dynamics in the Congress. This situation has contributed to Türkiye considering alternative options, namely as the Eurofighter Typhoon, a system compatible with NATO's Integrated Air Defense System and complying with NATO standards.
1.2 Türkiye Explores Eurofighter Typhoon Option in the midst of F-16 Acquisition Challenges with the US
Türkiye’s pressing requirement to upgrade its air power structure is impeded by the formalities and challenges presented by the US Congress concerning the F-16 proposals. This situation has prompted discussions between Türkiye and the UK regarding the Eurofighter Typhoon (Typhoon) as a potential alternative. The Typhoon has been a topic of discussion within Türkiye's defense industry epistemic communities since the 2000s. Nonetheless, the Turkish TAF’s traditional technical reliance on F-16s has historically relegated the Typhoon to a secondary consideration.
Nevertheless, Türkiye’s Defense Minister Yasar Guler, visited the UK in November 2023. During this high-level visit, he expressed Türkiye's intention to strengthen its defense collaboration with the UK, with a particular focus on the TAI TF Kaan project and expanding to include new procurements like the Typhoon fighter jets. In light of the recent UK visit, it is also important to note that the current defense industry relationship between Türkiye and the US mostly is constrained by CAATSA sanctions, which are reflected in the United States' International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). In light of the United States' sanctions imposed upon Türkiye's Defense Industry Agency, it is observed that the Ministry of Defense's role in the sphere of foreign military procurement has markedly augmented within the domain of public policy.
In contrast to the US companies, UK defense firms are not bound by these regulations in their defense collaboration agreements. The UK’s supportive stance on defense projects with Türkiye might lead to wider projects between the two countries. This aligns with Minister Guler's goal of working more with UK defense companies, especially because of the CAATSA regime affecting Türkiye.
1.3. UK’s Flexible Defense Collaboration Approach to Türkiye Amid CAATSA Constraints
Following the discussions between two governments, sources pertinent to the negotiations have indicated that Türkiye has formally requested an initial procurement of 20 Typhoon FGR.Mk 4 aircraft, with an option to acquire an additional 20 units at a later stage. Türkiye’s Ministry of Defense sources also emphasized that while the ongoing negotiations with the US for F-16s remain a priority but the stagnant situation in Washington, D.C., has compelled Türkiye to explore equivalent alternatives. This search aligns with the consideration of the Typhoon.
The Typhoon, which the Türkiye’s Ministry of Defense has formally declared an intention to procure, are manufactured by an international consortium consisting of Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain. The execution of Ankara’s request to purchase the discussed package is contingent upon the multilateral approval of all consortium member states. Notably, in previous endeavors by Türkiye to acquire the Typhoon model back in 2012, Italy was designated the primary entity for sales and marketing operations on behalf of the consortium. Following the unsuccessful discussions between Türkiye and the consortium, Italy has formally ceased its operations related to this matter.
In the current task allocation within the consortium, the UK, acting as the proponent of the sale, is obligated to secure the assent of its fellow consortium members. Concerning the approval dynamics, it is observed that Italy and Spain have expressed their endorsement of Türkiye’s proposed acquisition, whereas Germany's position remains indeterminate. While Germany does not have an official sanction policy specifically targeting Türkiye's defense industry, regional conflicts ranging from the Syrian Civil War to tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, coupled with the secondary tension clauses of CAATSA, have resulted in a stagnation of defense relations between Germany and Türkiye. In a recent development indirectly related to Türkiye's proposal for Typhoon jets, German Defense Minister Pistorius stated, "We need a more open-minded policy and a change of strategy." This comment indicates a potential shift in the stance towards approving the procurement of Typhoons for Türkiye.
Industry experts contend that if Türkiye conclude a contract with the UK for 20 Typhoon aircraft in 2024 at the initial stage, the expected timeline for their delivery may parallel that of the F-16 Block70 acquisition. This estimation indicates that the completion of the Typhoon deliveries would occur within the timeframe of 2028 to 2029. Regarding the timing of delivery and TAF’s urgent needs, it is important to remind that the UK is expected to decommission its Typhoon T1A aircraft from its inventory by around 2025. Consequently, as an interim solution to meet its urgent requirements, Türkiye might explore the option of rapidly procuring these T1A aircraft as an alternative to the Typhoon FGR.Mk 4.
In conclusion, it is essential to underscore that key decision-makers engaged in the negotiations concerning F-16s and Typhoons have explicitly stated that Russian-made SU-35s, classified as 4.5 generation aircraft, are not being considered in Ankara’s air force strategic plans. This decision complies with the traditional national defense policy of TAF, that prioritizes the acquisition of systems compatible with NATO’s Integrated Air Defense System and adheres to NATO standards. This kind of compliance is crucial for enhancing interoperability within the alliance internally and externally. Additionally, experts have consistently highlighted that the F-16s represent the primary option for the TAF, with the Typhoon serving as an alternative.
2. Financial Analysis of the F-16 Viper and Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.Mk 4 Aircraft
The pricing of the Typhoon varies significantly based on the buyer’s location and the nature of the deal accordingly with the different variants of Typhoon. According to Aero time’s report, the Typhoon is available for around $50 million per unit to buyers within the consortium. This lower price point for EU members likely reflects a strategic pricing decision to promote intra-European defense collaboration and to offer a more competitive option within the EU’s defense market.
It might be posited that Türkiye’s candidacy status for EU membership, its multifaceted trade relationships with the continent, and its geopolitical proximity could afford marginal discounts. Nevertheless, for exports to countries outside the European Union, the price of the Typhoon is significantly higher. A notable example is the 2018 offer by Airbus to India, where the Eurofighters were priced at approximately €138 million per unit, which is about $149.04 million at that time’s rates. This price is significantly higher than the one offered within the EU and double the cost of the F-16 Block 70/72, which is around $63 million per unit.
3. The Potential Implications in Turkish Defense Industry of Procuring the Eurofighter Typhoon in Lieu of the F-16 Block 70
Türkiye's negotiations for the Typhoon aircraft reveal significant insights into the TAF current and future strategic planning. A primary factor prompting Türkiye to consider the Typhoon as an alternative to the F-16 is the prevailing uncertainty and hesitation in the US Congress. The current inflexibility and adverse perceptions within the US Congress regarding Türkiye's F-16 proposal have compelled the TAF to seek equivalent alternatives that align with NATO standards. Additionally, the enactment of the CAATSA regime by the US against Türkiye's DIA underscores the necessity for Türkiye to pursue alternative partnerships within the Transatlantic Community.
The historical collaboration initiatives in the defense industry between Türkiye and the UK, particularly through technological assistance partnerships such as the UK-based BAE Systems with Turkish Aerospace, and the Kale Group with Rolls Royce under the TAI TF Kaan project, demonstrate a clear indication of the potential for deeper cooperation within the Turkish Defense Industry. These collaborative efforts signify a strong foundation for future strategic partnerships, underscoring the mutual commitment of both nations to advancing their defense capabilities through possible joint ventures and technological exchange.
It is anticipated that Türkiye could enhance its defense cooperation in response to the US’ CAATSA-related policies affecting the Turkish Defense Industry.
3.1 Incremental Change in Türkiye's Defense Procurement: Diversifying Military Sources While Maintaining NATO Compatibility
This strategic reorientation in Türkiye's decision-making process could evolve into a long-term strategy aimed at diversifying its military defense industry dependencies by incorporating UK-based defense contracts into its military procurements. This change is further motivated by the UK defense industry’s non-application of ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) constraints in their foreign military sales, offering Türkiye a more accessible avenue for military acquisitions. However, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of this policy change, as the TAF has been heavily reliant on the US Air Force for its air force structure and military sustainment needs since 1952. This historical and technical dependency suggests potential challenges in transitioning to new sources. Conversely, the evolving nature of bilateral relations and the impact of the CAATSA regime are prompting Türkiye to gradually alter its procurement policies, signaling a shift towards more varied military sourcing strategies while ensuring compatibility with NATO’s operational frameworks.
3.2 TAF’s F-16 Expertise and Path Dependency in Military Aircraft Operations
Military experts point out that while both the F-16 and the Typhoon fighter jets possess similar capabilities in general, they differ in military equipment, ammunition, and hardware. At this juncture, it's crucial to acknowledge the TAF’s historical relationship (or path dependency) with the F-16s, which has provided the Turkish Military with extensive knowledge of the F-16s’ technical aspects, including its subsystems. The TAF’s prolonged use of F-16s has endowed its staff with deep knowledge of the aircraft’s technical equipment. An illustrative example of this expertise is Türkiye’s development of indigenous ammunition compatible with the F-16 and the ÖZGÜR project, which is centered on domestic research and development activities for modernizing its air force. Should Türkiye undertake the procurement of Typhoon aircraft, it will be imperative for its defense industry to substantially enhance both its technical expertise and knowledge transfer capabilities.
3.3 Assessing the Financial Implications of Procuring Typhoons on Türkiye’s Military Budget
There is a notable price disparity, with the Typhoons costing about twice as much as the F-16s. If Türkiye proceed with the acquisition of Typhoon aircraft, the Ministry of Defense will be necessitated to augment its budget substantially. This increase is required to accommodate the costs associated with high-priced units and to address the military sustainment needs of the Typhoons, which are contingent on contracts from the UK.
The latest valuation of the Royal Air Force’s Typhoon program is approximately £17.6 billion, a figure that includes costs associated with both the demonstration and manufacturing stages. An estimated unit cost is derived by dividing the aggregate costs of demonstration and manufacture by the total of 160 aircraft, resulting in a figure of around £110 million per aircraft. However, alternative sources have placed this unit cost at approximately £125 million. As indicated in this report previously, India paid €138 million per unit, which is about $149.04 million. It is essential to note that these estimates do not account for the ongoing support costs throughout the aircraft's lifecycle. Given this differentiating pricing data, the overall cost of Türkiye’s proposed acquisition is projected to range between £4.5 and £5 billion.
In conclusion, the rationale behind Türkiye’s Guler’s emphasis on prioritizing F-16s, as argued by some analysts, is twofold: the financial effectiveness of such a choice and the technical expertise of the relevant personnel. Current F-16s expertise of TAF still is important in facilitating local, tailored solutions, playing a significant role in the strategic decision-making process for military procurement.
4. Operational and Tactical Adaptation of Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.Mk 4to TAF
In the event of Türkiye acquiring Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.Mk 4 aircraft for its air force, a thorough process of operational and tactical adaptation will be necessary. This adaptation will involve extensive training of TAF personnel at both tactical and operational levels. Tactically, most TAF combat pilots have undergone training under the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program (ENJJPT), aligning them with NATO standards and easing their transition into the Typhoon’s basic flying training program. However, advanced-level flying training, encompassing air-to-air and air-to-ground combat practices and tactical development, could take approximately 1 to 1.5 years to achieve full combat readiness military. This process will likely require technical support from the Royal Air Force.
Operationally, harmonization of the maintenance-logistic support system will be crucial. The Typhoon’s compatibility with US-made weapon systems (such as JDAM, Paveway, AMRAAM, AIM-9M), already part of TAF's inventory, will facilitate integration. However
In Europe, much like in other regions, the defense industry is subject to significant political sensitivity and stringent regulations. The characteristics and origins of weapon supplies are shaped by the host country's historical background and its political-economic environment. In this vein, the incorporation of Turkish national weapon systems into the Typhoon will demand a specialized engineering and testing process, subject to approval by the Typhoon's consortium member states.
In conclusion, the strategic landscape of the TAF is undergoing a comprehensive search for transformation, marked by a pivotal shift toward procuring the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.Mk 4. This move, driven by the combined effects of Türkiye’s exclusion from the F-35 program and the complexities surrounding the F-16 Viper Block 70 acquisition, instigated by the US Congress, reflects a broader strategy to diversify and modernize its air force capabilities within NATO’s security harmony. The Typhoon, with its advanced combat features, features not only a technical upgrade for the TAF but hints a strategic realignment aspiration with Türkiye’s long-term defense objectives in the NATO alliance.
The financial implications of this procurement underscore Türkiye’s defense sector's commitment to investing significantly in enhancing its military prowess, despite the higher costs associated with the Typhoon compared to the F-16. Nevertheless, the F-16 remains at the top of the TAF’s agenda due to its financial advantage and the technical expertise of the staff familiar with the product. Furthermore, the operational and tactical adaptations necessary for integrating the Typhoon into the TAF highlight the complexities of transitioning to a new air combat system, including training, maintenance, and logistical support.
This strategic decision, while presenting challenges, could also pave the way for wider cooperation with the UK and other European defense partners.
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