Paris Air Show

Turkey Forges Ahead on Defense Ambitions

 - June 12, 2019, 8:00 AM
Together with Lockheed-Martin, Turkey’s Roketsan is developing the SOM J standoff cruise missile for Turkish F-35s. But political complications have placed F-35 deliveries on hold.

Turkey’s NATO membership means that it has access to the same technologies as its allied partners. While the nation is involved in a number of large-scale projects—the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) being a prime example—offset requirements remain a key requirement for defense sales to Turkey, and nearly all programs it is involved in have a technology transfer element to them.

This is the result of a push from the government for Turkey to bolster its defense manufacturing capability. Progress is being made in many areas, but there is a still a reliance on guidance from partner nations that have a more comprehensive knowledge of certain technologies, and to which Ankara still looks to for assistance. This can both work in Turkey’s favor as well as against it, however, as it looks toward conflicting partners for this guidance.

While involvement in the United States-led F-35 program is significant for the country and for domestic development of parts for the multi-national effort, Turkey’s relationship with another partner—namely Russia—has led to the suspension of deliveries of the F-35 to Turkey.

Washington was displeased with Ankara’s decision to select the S-400 air defense system developed in Russia—something that it claims compromises the interoperability of the Turkish aircraft into the NATO network—which alongside a number of perceived human rights violations committed by Turkey against U.S. citizens led to the suspension of deliveries of the F-35.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, has remained steadfast in his stance that the nation will partner with whoever it elects to, and the government-to-government dispute continues.

Projects Continue 

In the meantime, Turkish industry involved in the JSF program claimed during the IDEF exhibition in April-May that contracts were continuing as normal and no work had so far been impacted by the dispute.

Roketsan, for example, continues with its development of the SOM J that will be internally carried within the aircraft and is awaiting clarity on the timeline in which it will test the weapon as part of the wider JSF development program. Ground testing is expected for 2021/22.

The contract for the U.S.-Turkey development of the T-70 utility helicopter is also seemingly unaffected by the ongoing dispute, under which 109 examples of the Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky S-70-derived rotorcraft will be delivered for six Turkish government agencies. There is also an option for a so-called “buy back” of 109 more helicopters that the American OEM can then sell to others.

Four T-70s are undergoing testing—three with Turkish Aerospace and one with Aselsan—and they are available to the team to certify the baseline configuration. Military certification is expected to be achieved in February 2020, and first deliveries are expected as of March 2021, with production expected to ramp up to 24 per year.

The T-70 will be delivered in two configurations—the ministry of forestry is one customer so requires a level of firefighting capability—and is deemed to be a missing class in Turkish operation, sitting at 10 tonnes.

UK Partnerships

There is also an effort underway for Turkey to develop its own fighter via the TF-X program, for which it has partnered with BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce in the UK for assistance in aircraft and engine design work.

A government-to-government heads of agreement pledge was signed by the premiers of the two nations in 2017, committing UK defense industry know-how to the development of the fifth-generation fighter, but since then the relationship has not quite evolved as planned. Reports earlier in 2019 claimed that Rolls-Royce, in particular, was scaling back its work with Turkey’s Kale Group on the engine development.

Reports claim that the technology transfer requirements of a proposed deal were too demanding for Rolls-Royce to agree to, so it had made the decision to scale back on its participation. This is despite having submitted an offer to the Turkish government under the teaming, something that the British engine manufacturer claims was done in accordance with “improved terms."

Notably, neither Rolls-Royce or BAE had a large presence at IDEF, despite their respective participation in such a significant Turkish development as TF-X.

Indigenous Efforts

One indigenous development that is making advances, meanwhile, is the Turkish Aerospace-led Anka medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV effort. Anka has been in the works for some years, and it comes in the -B, -I, and -S models that have been developed for Turkish forces, of which five, five, and 10 have been delivered, respectively.

A new twin-engine version dubbed Aksungur carried out its first flight of some four hours on March 20 powered by a German-developed engine, followed by a three-hour flight on April 3.

Both were testing the flight characteristics and automatic takeoff and landing capability of the air vehicle, which carried no payload. Flight testing is expected to continue throughout the year, ahead of integrating and certifying the Turkish-developed TEI PD170 engine into the twin-boom aircraft by year-end. Weapons will also be integrated onto Aksungur in the last quarter of 2019.

The PD170 has a maximum continuous power output of 170 hp, while a planned new version of the powerplant will be able to reach a rating of 222 hp, according to TEI, meeting the power demands of the newer and more power-demanding UAV. The PD170 is currently being tested onboard the Anka-S single-engine version of the UAV and first flew on this on December 27, 2018. The engine will also be qualified for this variant by the end of 2019.

While export success has not yet been achieved for any of the Anka variants, Indonesia is believed to be considering a buy of the UAV. A model was exhibited at Indo Defence in Jakarta in November 2018.

To this end, in January 2018 Indonesian firm PT Dirgantara Indonesia agreed to collaborate with Turkish Aerospace on a MALE UAV with an operating ceiling of 40,000 feet, in an attempt for the nations to rely less on Western imports.

The same Turkish company is also developing the Hürjet, a light attack/trainer aircraft, which will be a more advanced and indigenous replacement for the nation’s in-service Northrop T-38 Talon trainer. Preliminary design review is due to be completed by the end of June. 

Delays in the program have resulted from supplier selections, which has pushed development back by some six months. Some delays are attributed in part to the program having inherited a number of suppliers from development of the Hürkuş turboprop trainer, leading to a number of issues having to be resolved. However, a company spokesperson told AIN that an undisclosed engine selection has now been made, and this will be provided by a foreign company.

Wind tunnel testing of the outer airframe has taken place already, although the company is yet to finalize selections for key parts of the aircraft, including avionics, radar, and ejection seat.

The new version of the company’s turboprop trainer, the Hürkuş-C, meanwhile, completed its test flight campaign at the end of 2018. The -C doubles as a light attack aircraft due to the inclusion of hardpoints.

Two Bombardier Global 6000s were delivered to Turkish Aerospace in January 2019, ahead of being integrated with an Aselsan-developed payload to take it to the Hava SOJ air stand-off jammer configuration for the Turkish air force. Aselsan is acting as prime contractor for the development, and a design review for the program is expected to be completed this year.

The next two aircraft are expected to be delivered by Bombardier in the third quarter of 2019, and the integration process will then take some time to complete due to the complexity of the payload and mission system. Sensors to be integrated will primarily be provided by Aselsan and will include communications, intelligence, and electronic support measures capabilities.

The company says that while the integration work is expected to take some time, the mission package will be installed directly onto the delivered aircraft with no need for a testbed because the team is confident that the design is deemed low risk. Development of export versions is also in the planning, which Aselsan says may come in the form of a different configuration to the one being delivered to Turkey.  

Aselsan is also in the process of developing a new radar for the F-16 fighter and has so far completed ground testing of the sensor. It is expected to be completed by 2022, the company said, and will ultimately compete with other active electronically-scanned array radars being introduced for the F-16—which the Turkish air force operates—offering air-to-air, air-to-ground, and electronic support and attack fire control capability.

Aselsan is adapting its ground- and vessel-based radar technologies for this design, which is being developed under a so-called protocol with the Turkish Savunma Sanayii Baskanligi procurement agency at the moment, although a test bed is yet to be assigned for flight testing. While there is a requirement for this from the domestic customer, Aselsan says that it wishes to export the technology, although Turkey’s needs are the primary concern initially.