After being removed by the U.S. from the F-35 project, Turkey has targeted 2023 as the year for the maiden flight of its unmanned fighter jet prototype.
Selcuk Bayraktar, the chief technology officer (CTO) of Baykar, told Daily Sabah that while the country’s expulsion from the program may seem like a disadvantage, in the long run, it will yield positive outcomes for the domestic defense industry.
Explaining the disadvantages of a system procured from abroad, in reference to the F-35 program, Bayraktar said “such a system, which is managed by digital computers whose software we will procure from abroad, which we do not have full knowledge of, and which is a foreign mission computer and software that decides what the trigger pushed by the pilot will do or not, may expose us to serious restrictions in terms of independent use.”
"Considering the possible usage restrictions and potential embargoes with a system that will be procured from abroad and has dozens of avionics, flight and mission computers that we do not have access to, the national combat platform will enable us to use it independently,” he added.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported citing an American defense official late Wednesday that the U.S. and eight other countries abolished an F-35 agreement inked in 2006 sans Turkey. The U.S. was unhappy and “concerned” with Turkey’s buying of S-400 missile systems from Russia.
Baykar has produced unmanned aircraft such as Bayraktar TB2 and Anka that have been used in conflicts in Libya, Syria and Nagorno Karabakh. It is also produced an advanced drone, Akinci, third prototype of which made its first flight recently.
Turkey’s removal from the F-35 program has also forced it to accelerate its TF-X National Combat Aircraft (MMU) project, in which artificial intelligence (AI) serves as the second pilot. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is taking charge in the TF-X program. The MMU's engine will be ready in 2023, and the plane will be ready to fly in 2025.
"If they gave the license of the F-35, we would build two units per month. The important thing is the license, the intellectual property rights. Otherwise, we have the capability to make the F-35 right now,” Temel Kotil, TAI’s general manager told Turkish media last month.
To keep its Air Force fleet strong while it readies its new aircraft, Turkey is extending the service life of its F-16 jets from 8,000 hours to 12,000 hours.