Fifth-gen Turkish TF-X fighter is only good wishes and bold claims
PANAGYURISHTE, (BM) – We have repeatedly written articles on the topic related to the new fifth generation fighters that are already in production or will be manufactured in the near future. Perhaps. As you may already know, in addition to the United States and China, Russia is also trying to intervene in the production of fifth-generation fighters, but so far Moscow has actually had three working prototypes.
Most recently, the official authorities announced that they have started mass production of the Su-57, and we have even published photos from the production process of the first future serial fighter.
Turkey and South Korea are the other two countries involved in the development and production of this type of fighter. And while the prototype of Seoul is being worked on extremely quickly [the first test flight is expected in 2021 – ed.], the TF-X of the Turkish government for another year continues to be just paint, plywood and good wishes with great pretensions.
Erdogan’s hopes are that after Turkey’s expulsion from the US F-35 program, their “future” fighter will seriously threaten F-35 competition. If we look at the Turkish model of their fifth-generation fighter, it’s like looking at an American F-22. However, the difference is significant – the F-22 is a functioning fighter with its baptism of fire and records, while the Turkish will most likely remain only in the minds of engineers.
Let’s look at the facts – to develop this type of fighter you need money. This is an expensive process that requires great financial independence. Turkey is the 17th largest economy in the world, and if we assume that for some reason they ever develop a prototype, then its serial production is almost unthinkable from a financial point of view. In reality, there are currently only three countries in the world that can afford this luxury – the United States, China and Russia.
What do we know so far about the Turkish fighter?
TF-X, as a fighter project, has existed since 2010, when the Turkish company TAI won a contract from the Turkish government to develop this type of fighter. The idea of the Turkish authorities is, after its development and testing, to start a real serial production, which will actually replace the existing Turkish air fleet of American F-16 Viper fighters. According to Ankara’s preliminary plan, this replacement should take place within the next eight to ten years, or in simple words, from 2028 to start this replacement process.
The Turkish company TAI has so far offered several variants of a fighter, respectively single-engine and twin-engine. The models presented at the exhibitions show that the Turkish fighter has two engines, which speaks of “possible” Russian intervention by providing technology.
But here’s the problem. Various military analysts, experts and financiers in the field say Turkey will need at least $ 100 billion at this stage for the development, serial production of several dozen fighters in the Turkish Air Force. For reference, Washington once spent about $ 70 billion for the development and serial production of nearly 200 F-22 fighters, adding at least another billion to afford to use them actively until 2005.
But the F-22 was the first American fifth-generation fighter to actually be replaced by the F-35. Let’s talk about it. The United States has planned to spend a total of approximately $ 400 billion on the entire project to produce the quantity of 2300 fighters for their own needs only. But these are prices only for the production of these fighters. And the annual costs? The Pentagon’s budget allocates nearly one and a half percent a year for the maintenance, service and everything related to the operation of F-35 fighters. When we do simple math, that’s nearly $ 10 billion per year for the operation of these fighters.
The striking fact is indicative: 10 billion USD are 50% of Turkey’s defense budget. In 2019, Turkey has spent nearly $ 20.4 billion for defense. At a time of financial crisis that has shaken Turkey, political instability and an “incomparable real” budget, how will Turkish mathematicians and financiers put $ 100 billion into $ 20 billion defense budget?
Or maybe Ankara relies on some kind of export? Where and at what price? This is almost impossible because there are few countries in the world that would afford a fifth-generation fighter. China has long undermined the price of the United States with its claims, although this is difficult to achieve. But suppose it is – how, where and at what price does Ankara intend to export? It is simply unrealistic for Turkey to think that this fighter will solve their problems with their air fleet.
Or maybe Turkey will develop a joint cost-sharing project with Moscow? It is difficult to implement, as there is no way for a NATO member to develop a joint system with Russia. Not because it is impossible at the political level, but because it is impossible at the engineering and technological level.
Most likely, Ankara is trying to use the TF-X as a “lever” against Washington, and maybe that’s why it bought the S-400, although it knew very well that it would be dropped from the program. The other option is [although it is also unlikely] that Ankara will try to help Russia develop and manufacture the Su-57.
Whichever of the two options revolves around Turkish President Erdogan, they show political inadequacy, largely due to the fact that the F-35 program is large enough to survive without Turkey’s involvement.
But otherwise, Mr. Temel Kotil, who is the head of the Turkish company TAI, proudly said that the Turkish fighter will be able to fly until 2025. Will it be like that? We are quite skeptical about this statement, but the world loves good wishes and bold claims.
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