Turkey’s F-16s will be phased out gradually over the next 10 to 15 years. Currently, the Ankara government has also been excluded from the US-led Joint Strike Fighter Program (JSF) F-35 program and is facing military sanctions. America.
So what can Ankara do to maintain the firepower in the air? Russian fighters seem to be the only viable option, but even that could come too late.
The Turkish Air Force deteriorated after the 2016 coup
NATO’s second-largest military has an air force with deterrent power both during and after the Cold War. The Turkish Air Force (TuAF) is ranked as the 21st largest air force power in the world.
But the fateful moment in the force’s history was on July 15, 2016, when TuAF’s F-16 Fighting Falcon jets bombed designated targets in Ankara, including the parliament building, as part of the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The coup resulted in tens of thousands of purges in government offices, including thousands of military officers, especially in the air force.
The number of generals in the TuAF decreased from 72 before the failed coup to 44, which also quickly lost half of its pilot force – from 1,350 to 680.
In addition, the resignation and retirement of TuAF pilots after the purge, brought the number of pilots below 400 and further undermined the command and combat capabilities of the force. TuAF even had to recruit Pakistani pilots to fly F-16 missions.
Ankara’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 Triumf long-range missile defense and defense system jeopardizes the TuAF’s future power.
Turkey’s decision to buy the S-400 system and its removal from the JSF program in 2019 will bring an additional burden of $ 500-600 million for the F-35 production cycle. It will cost the Turkish aerospace manufacturers nearly $ 10 billion over the next 10 years.
|Turkey mainly uses US F-16s and F-4 fighters|
But what about the potential operating costs for a country to fight asymmetric wars both at home and abroad?
TuAF operates its core squadrons of fourth-generation US-made F-16 Fighting Falcon and older F-4 Phantom IIs in campaigns against eastern Kurdish separatists. south of Turkey as well as in northern Iraq and Syria.
Turkey first started buying the F-16 from the United States in the late 1980s and has been licensed to manufacture iconic fighter jets, becoming one of the five countries that manufacture the aircraft in the country. .
Currently, the TuAF has a total of 270 F-16C / D aircraft in service, all of them Block 30/40/50. These versions are not good enough and most of these aircraft will have to be phased out over the next 10 to 15 years, depending on their upgrades.
Turkey cannot own a 5th generation fighter
The deadline is coming, but there are major events to the TuAF’s power upgrade program.
Two years after the coup (2018), most of the wounds have healed and the Air Force wants to restore its power with a plan to purchase more than 100 of the world’s most advanced fighters. built, that is the fifth generation Loockhed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter.
Between a new command structure and a hopeful new power-upgrade program, things seem to be on the right track.
At the time, Turkey was still a member of the US-led Multinational Attack Fighter (JSF) program, building the F-35 Lightning II. Previously, in May 2014, Turkey officially ordered the first two F-35s without knowing that, 6 years later they will not receive them.
By cooperating in the world’s largest aircraft program, Ankara gained critical access to strategic aerospace technologies and when the F-35 program required the supply of nearly 1,000 components. of aircraft, Turkey’s military aviation industry has had strong momentum.
On December 14, 2020, the US announced that it would impose sanctions against Turkey under the “US Anti-Adversity Act through Sanctions” (CAATSA) for purchase of the Russian S-400 Triumf system.
|Turkey has been excluded from the JSF program by the US|
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would ban all permits and export authorizations for Turkey’s defense procurement (SSB) and enact asset and visa restrictions on Ismail. Demir, SSB president and other Turkish defense industry officials.
This means that the US will not continue to upgrade Turkey’s existing F-16 squadron.
Having said that, this is not a major immediate threat to the TuAF. Turkish aerospace industry can provide F-16 with structural upgrades, Turkish engine industry can offer engine repair and maintenance solutions and electrical specialist Aselsan Group’s military personnel can modernize avionics when required.
If necessary, components of the F-16 could also be supplied privately by Pakistan, an ally of Turkey.
However, this is not a long-term solution. Turkey’s own program for the design, development and manufacture of its first native fighter, the TF-X, has not made significant progress. Turkey’s 5th generation stealth fighter program is still stuck in the preliminary design phase, with no reliable engine option to provide thrust to the aircraft.
As such, it could take decades [hoặc vô thời hạn] Turkish pilots have the chance to actually fly the 5th generation fighter their engineers had previously hoped to succeed in 2023.
Russian procurement deepens the conflict with the US-NATO
The F-35 is banned from the US, the TF-X seems to have entered a dead end. That leaves Turkey with no way of owning 5th generation fighters, while also unable to upgrade the 4th generation. Therefore, the Ankara government will have to seek assistance from foreign partners. other.
What are the options? The solution thanks to Sweden (Saab’s Gripen Group, light fighter manufacturer JAS 39 Gripen) or Germany-UK (making Eurofighter Typhoon) or France (making Rafale) is no longer possible due to sanctions by America.
China too, as Beijing retains a grudge against Ankara’s decision to terminate the initial $ 3.4 billion contract for China’s HQ-9 air defense systems in 2013, in an air defense weapon procurement program (after which Ankara chose the Russian-made S-400).
|Procurement of Russian fighter jets could put Turkey out of NATO|
This makes Russia the sole potential supplier of Turkey’s next generation fighter squadron.
In 2019, a senior Turkish military officer told the media: “We cannot help but replace the F-35s,” and a defense procurement official said, ge-war assessments strategy would make the option to buy Russian aircraft the first natural alternative.
Turkish military officials stressed that Russian fighter technology would be the best first option if the US eliminated Turkey in the F-35 program.
According to Turkish military leaders, choosing to buy Russian aircraft is a big possibility. If the S-400 Triumf deal is seen as an “appetizer” then the “main course” could be the purchase of Russia’s 4.5 generation Su-35, or even a fifth generation Su-57.
This is exactly what Russian President Vladimir Putin must have planned when he first outlined his plans to sell the S-400 to Turkey. Is this a happy ending for the TuAF? Are not.
Becoming the first NATO member state to own a fleet of Russian fighters will be not only logically complex, but also in training and training.
Senior Air Force officers say it will take at least a decade for TuAF to operate Russian aircraft after training-training pilots and technical staff; construction of logistics and technical facilities; repair and maintenance parts; as well as establishing compatibility with radar.
Moreover, it was a real political crisis in NATO. After purchasing the S-400, if Turkey continues to buy Russian aircraft, its NATO membership is at great risk, and the US-Turkey relationship will no longer be redeemed.
With a real turning point in politics and diplomacy, does Erdogan have the courage to upgrade his air force with Russian fighter jets? Obviously, this is a really undesirable Turkish problem. Therefore, great difficulties await TuAF in the future.