New door is opening for Turkiye to return to the F-35 program
ANKARA, TURKIYE — Turkiye’s expulsion from the US Joint Strike Fighter program in 2020 was one of Ankara’s biggest defense and security disappointments in the past decade. This harms both parties.
- Turkey puts 25mm NEFER weapon system on its 134 ZMA-15 AFVs
- Turkey produced the mission computer for its 5th-gen aircraft
- Turkish S-400s bought in 2017 have reached operational readiness
Lockheed Martin lost a low-cost, high-quality supplier of parts for the F-35, and a new operator of the fighter jet that would pay for years to maintain. Ankara lost more – contracts with Lockheed Martin, fifth-generation fighter jets, deteriorated relations with Washington. But throughout this period [2019-2023], Turkey has made it clear that despite the losses, it will not become dependent on foreign weapons technology.
Washington’s decision led to a domino effect. Germany, France, and Great Britain gradually began to withdraw from some joint Turkish projects. Various areas were affected – missile production, engines, design, and import of components and parts. And just like a domino effect, Ankara began to find a way back for all the gaps – increased engineering and production at the local level, produced equivalent weapons systems to foreign ones and found new suppliers and partners in Asia.
Patriot, S-400, and Hisar SAM systems
When Turkiye needed air defense to guarantee national security, the Hisar SAM system was already in the process of development, design, and testing. Ankara turned to Washington asking for a bid for the American Patriot air defense system. The US had no reason not to send one, but the price did not sit well with the Turkish administration.
The possibility of the Russian S-400 air defense system as a second option has emerged. As it happened. Moscow provided excellent conditions, which it subsequently fulfilled after Ankara ordered, paid for, and acquired the S-400. This infuriated Washington as they saw a threat to their secret new technology used in the F-35.
However, Ankara did not stop developing the Hisar family of anti-aircraft missile systems. Thus, at the end of 2022, Turkiye made a successful test of the last member of the Hisar family – SIPER. The missile intercepted a target at a distance of 100 km. This is what opens a new door and opportunity for Turkey to return to the F-35 program.
Siper vs S-400
Siper is the Turkish version of a long-range anti-aircraft missile system. Its range is 150 km according to the generally available information. A successful test in late 2022 means there will be at least two more tests by mid-2023. If they pass successfully as the first, serial production of the Sipper will begin in late 2023, which is Turkiye’s plan.
In Turkiye, the media compares the Siper with the S-400. According to local publications, the Turkish air defense system is like the Russian S-400. At this point, it is difficult to say whether the Siper can compete with the S-400, as there is a little date to compare. First of all, the Russians claim that their system has a range of 400 km, at least in theory.
The Turkish company Aselsan has advanced enormously in the development of radar systems. Currently, every Turkish org system requiring radar scanning uses an Aselsan product. Turkiye is even upgrading Western weapons systems in its inventory with Aselsan radars, including F-16 fighter jets. I.e. we can assume, without knowing for sure, that Siper has a better radar than the Russian one integrated into the S-400.
A new door to the F-35 program
Siper SAM is an opportunity for Ankara to be invited back into the F-35 program. Without the need for the Russian S-400, Siper can guarantee the protection of critical infrastructure sites and areas, which Ankara wanted from the beginning.
If Sieper replaces the S-400 operationally, Washington could open a new door for Ankara. Dr. Thomas Whittington, a RUSI fellow, and expert in electronic warfare and air defense echoes this view. “Using the Siper instead of the S-400 domestically could be a way to get back into Washington’s good books and perhaps reactivate the F-35 acquisition,” he added.
TF-X vs. F-35
Does Turkiye want to return to the F-35 program? Western analysts say Turkiye wants to come back. But do they look only through the prism of their position, without putting themselves in the position of the Turkish side? Taken out of context three years ago, Turkish President Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said two very significant lines. “Turkiye is a big territory and we have to protect it <…> If we buy the F-35 and at some point, the Americans don’t like us, they can turn our F-35 into a third-generation fighter. So what are we buying now?”.
This is exactly what Turkiye is doing right now. The Siper SAM enters serial production this year, and the prototype of the stealth fifth-generation Turkish fighter TF-X will most likely make its first flight this year. Yes, it will take time before it goes into serial production, but three years have passed without the F-35, and this has not significantly affected the security of the country.
Siper opens a door that won’t be liked
Siper is a new product with a well-established new product because it opens a new door. There are expensive American and European air defense systems, there are Israeli air defense systems that are sold based on politics, not needs, there are Russian air defense systems that will cause sanctions as well as concerns about their quality, there are Chinese systems that, for similar reasons, are not preferred.
Siper gives potential future customer the opportunity to focus on Turkiye, guaranteeing quality air defense at an affordable price. Yes, Siper SAM opens a door that established air defense manufacturers will not like. But business changes, politics changes. Turkiye shows flexibility and readiness. In this regard, Turkiye is already well ahead of others. However, whether the Siper will be better than the S-400 remains to be seen.
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