Turkey has all but given up on rescuing its deal for 100 F-35 fighter jets with the United States, and instead is seeking alternatives to the American jets besides improving its defensive capabilities.
With the new U.S. National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in effect, it is highly likely that Turkey will not be able to receive its fifth-gen F-35 multirole stealth aircraft in the foreseeable future, according to an article by Dr. Can Kasapoglu of EDAM, an Istanbul based think tank.
The remaining 5th-generation airpower project, the MMU (Milli Muharip Ucak – the national combat aircraft), in cooperation with the British BAE systems, could start equipping the air force with combat-ready squadrons as early as the 2030s.
The article makes no mention of Turkey’s plans to acquire the Russian Su-57 fifth generation fighter jet despite Turkish President Erdogan getting a tour of the aircraft and various officials on both sides stating that buying the Su-57 was on the table for Istanbul.
Currently, “the Turkish Air Force operates the 4th-generation F-16s as the backbone of its doctrinal order of battle. Thus, in the 2020s, Turkey would need a feasible stopgap, either through an interim 4.5th-generation solution or a comprehensive F-16 modernization. An alternative way forward could be boosting the SAM (surface to air missile) capabilities to foster anti-access / area denial (A2/AD) posture while delegating air-ground missions in permissive operational environments to light attack aircraft (Armed Hurkus) and to UAVs with higher payloads and advanced sensors,” the article reads.
Still, none of these alternatives would compensate for the deep-strike and network-centric warfare capabilities offered by the F-35, the article notes. With the U.S. NDAA in effect, and considering the risk posed by the CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) sanctions a critical possibility, Ankara has to augment and diversify its international defense ties.
In addition to the US refusing to sell the F-35 and holding up funds invested by Ankara to buy the aircraft, Turkey could also suffer US denial if it seeks to upgrade its F-16 jets to the most modern Block 70 standard.
Capable partners remain vital for Turkey, the article said adding that the burgeoning military cooperation with Ukraine, especially in view of the success of active protection systems development for armored platforms’ survivability against anti-tank guided missiles, sets a good example in this respect.