The centenary of the founding of the modern Turkish Republic takes place on October 29, 2023, making it a year of the utmost importance in the domestic calendar. To mark another important date in Turkey’s military history, on March 18, 2023 several debut or appearance flights staged by Turkish Aerospace (TAI) will take place, marking the 108th year since the Çanakkale Victory, when Ottoman forces repelled British and French naval forces during World War I's Gallipoli campaign. Perhaps most notably, TAI plans on that day to roll out the TF-X fifth-generation stealth air superiority fighter under development in partnership with BAE Systems.
“Turkish Aerospace continues to expand its development work for the global aviation industry,” TAI chief executive Temel Kotil told AIN. “From helicopters to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aircraft to space programs, TAI continues its success as one of the world's top 100 defense companies.”
TAI will soon deliver the Hürkuş aircraft, a two-seat, single-engine turboprop intended for use as a basic trainer for the Turkish Armed Forces, while at the same time continuing to work on the Hürjet prototype, an advanced jet training and light attack aircraft—Turkey's first specially developed jet trainer, Kotil said.
TAI claims the T129 Atak Helicopter, which saw design participation from AgustaWestland before it became Leonardo in 2017, ranks among the most effective and powerful attack helicopters in its class. It continues to deliver the aircraft to land forces and has built a Phase-2 heavy class attack version, which the Philippines military has taken as it modernizes its fleet.
Meanwhile, testing and certification efforts continue on four prototypes of another civil project developed by TAI in recent years—the twin-engine T625 Gökbey utility helicopter. Designed for several civilian uses, the helicopter serves a wide range of roles in cargo, ambulance, search and rescue, and VIP transport. Its large cabin carries the capacity to carry 12 fully equipped military personnel.
“Most importantly, the [TF-X] Turkish Fighter is one of the most important projects the country is developing,” said Kotil. “[Along with the Hürjet and the Atak 2], TAI aims to perform the roll-out of the Turkish Fighter on March 18, 2023.” Known locally as the MMU and designed as a replacement for Turkey’s earlier participation in the U.S.’s F-16 program, the Turkish fighter debuted in mock-up form at the Singapore Airshow earlier this year. TAI expects it to become fully operational in 2030.
TAI’s Malaysia engineering office, which opened in 2021, carries out studies on developing avionics systems and remains an important focus of international cooperation through R&D and technology development. Employee headcount will reach 100 by the end of the year. The company, which Kotil said understands the importance of university and industry collaboration, seeks to build Malaysia's own ecosystem through the exchange of ideas, he explained.
Last year, TAI signed for exports of the Anka UAV to Kazakhstan and aims to establish the drone’s first overseas production base in the Central Asian nation, with the agreement signed in May 2022.
“TAI has offices and R&D centers in Asia, Europe, and America, and aims to intensify its work and office presence, especially in African and Asian countries, in order to develop new collaborations," said Kotil.
At Farnborough, a mockup of the Turkish Fighter will make its UK debut. The Hürjet, Hürkuş, Gökbey, Atak, Anka and Aksungur drone will also appear on display in the static area. The company will introduce the MMU cockpit for the first time in the exhibition area. The Hürkuş and Atak will also participate in the flight show.
In a March 2022 paper entitled Engines of Influence: Turkey’s Defense Industry Under Erdogan, published by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Aykan Erdemir and Ryan Brobst noted that Turkey relies on alternate suppliers as a stopgap measure and as a source of technology while developing its domestic arms industry over the long-term.
“Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system and its interest in Moscow’s Su-35 fighters reflect Ankara’s shift to new defense partners,” it said. “Turkey has been reasonably successful at reducing its dependency on arms imports, decreasing them by 59 percent in the five-year period 2016-2020, as compared to 2011-2015. The government hopes that Turkey’s move toward self-sufficiency will eventually enable the country to pursue a foreign and security policy less restricted by its transatlantic allies.”
To date, the Turkish defense industry remained dependent on importing key systems. “The inability to produce engines is a major bottleneck that Ankara seeks to overcome," said the paper. "Turkey’s indigenous arms industry is heavily reliant on importing engines for drones, armored vehicles, and ships, which Ankara then exports as complete systems. Ukraine is the most promising partner for defense cooperation with Turkey. Open-source data indicates significant cooperation on engine manufacturing.”