The Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM) and the defense company Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) signed an agreement on Tuesday to begin a national fighter jet project.
“During the Defense Industry Implementation Committee [SSİK] meeting last year it was agreed that TAI and SSM would begin negotiating the details for designing and producing a national fighter jet to meet the needs of the Turkish Air Forces [THK],” Muharrem Dörtkaşlı, the general manager of TAI, told the Anatolia news agency on Tuesday. “We have ambitious goals. With this deal, we will start Turkey's first national fighter jet development project. “However, we will need an extensively educated workforce and therefore Turkish engineers working abroad who have the required experience in these kinds of projects will be invited to return to Turkey to serve their country.”
The general manager also noted that TAI and Tusaş Engine Industries (TEI) will lead the design and development processes of the fighter jet. He added that TEI will focus more on the production of the airplane's engines to be completed by 2015, while TAI will develop other components. Dörtkaşlı also noted that the employment of design engineers in the country will double for the duration of the design stage of the project.
A signing ceremony was held at TAI's facilities in Balgat, Ankara. Defense minister İsmet Yılmaz, Air Forces commander Mehmet Erten, deputy defense minister Hasan Kemal Yardımcı, SSM Undersecretary Murad Bayar and top Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) officials attended the ceremony on Tuesday.
The SSİK met with the former chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in December 2010 when the decision was made to produce the Turkish fighter jet and to complete the project by 2023, which marks the centennial of the Turkish Republic, and began feasibility studies. These studies included how much the fighter jet would cost, which mechanical and electronic systems would be employed and included a wider perspective of the opportunities and challenges in military aviation.
The THK fighter jet inventory currently consists of McDonnell Douglas F-4s and F-16 Fighting Falcons. However, these planes will be changed for F-35s from the American aviation company Lockheed Martin over the next couple of years. Since fighter jets use sophisticated software, companies are not willing to share the plans of their planes, thereby making owners of these fighters jets dependant on the company. Turkey, however, wants to decrease its dependency on high-tech foreign defense industries by producing its own products such as the new fighter jet.