Following the U.S. expulsion of Turkey from its F-35 stealth fighter jet programme, Ankara is searching for some 100 replacement jets, and its procurement choice is likely to help determine the country’s geopolitical future, said an analysis for Forbes.
Richard Aboulafia, aerospace and defence contributor to Forbes, sees four options.
The first is to choose another Western partner, as none of the other jets on the market are stealth designs and would not risk leaking secrets to Russia. “Turkey also has the technical skills needed to manufacture a Western fighter in-country,” he wrote on Sunday for Forbes, pointing to Turkish Aerospace Industries producing F-16s under license from Lockheed Martin.
“This new fighter project would help compensate Turkey’s aerospace industry for the loss of [some $10 billion in] F-35 contracts,” said Aboulafia, adding that choosing a European option like the Dassault Rafales could boost troubled ties with the EU.
The second option is an indigenous Turkish solution, such as the long envisioned TF-X national fighter. The main advantage of this plan is that Turkey’s industries have minimal experience in new aircraft design and integration and would thus need to work with Western partners, according to Aboulafia.
“Thus, pursuing an indigenous solution would not mean ending industrial and technological relations with the U.S. and European defence establishments,” he said.
The third option is Russia’s Sukhoi Su-35.
“This dystopian – and hopefully unlikely – scenario would represent a tipping point for Turkey on many levels,” said Aboulafia, explaining that it could not be integrated into NATO’s air defence network and would not be able to share data with Turkey’s military aircraft fleet.
“Going down this path would certainly mean a deeper rift with, and perhaps exit from, NATO,” he added. With Russian technology and practices, Turkish firms would “lose all relevance to the world aerospace industry”, according to Aboulafia.
The last option is that Turkey agrees to transfer its S-400s to a third party or returns them to Russia, and rejoins the F-35 programme.
“Turkey’s S-400 decision can be reversed, and that would be the best scenario for all parties involved,” said Aboulafia. “If it isn’t, the country’s next step will be pivotal.”