Powered by
Sponsored by

Turkish-Pakistani stealth fighter? Interview triggers buzz on collaboration

Kotil says he wanted more engineers for the fighter project

tf-x rep Concept for the TF-X | Turkish Aerospace

Turkey's project to develop an indigenous 'fifth-generation' stealth fighter has come into focus ever since ties with the US started deteriorating. Ties between Turkey and the US have remained frayed since 2017 when Turkey announced the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system.

The tension resulted in Turkey being expelled from the US F-35 stealth fighter project. Turkish companies were manufacturing components for the F-35 and Ankara was expected to buy 100 F-35 jets. However, the absence of the F-35 has meant the indigenous stealth fighter programme, referred to as 'TF-X', has become more important.

Last week, the CEO of Turkish Aerospace, the company building the TF-X, claimed Turkey was collaborating with Pakistan in developing a fifth-generation fighter. Temel Kotil talked of a fifth-generation fighter project in an interview with Rana Mubashir on Pakistan's Aaj News.

The interview delved on the topic of cooperation between Turkey and Pakistan in the aerospace sector. The interview included other officials, one of whom was Pakistan Air Force Air Vice Marshal Rizwan Riaz, who is pro-rector for research, innovation and commercialisation at the National University of Sciences & Technology (NUST), the country's premier research institution.

Pointing to a miniature model of a stealth fighter, Kotil said “The name of this one [jet] is Turkish-Pakistani fighter. This is fifth generation.” Riaz added “This is a fifth-generation fighter aircraft on which Pakistan and Turkey are now collaborating.” It is yet unclear whether the initiative is different from TF-X.

Kotil said he wanted more engineers for the fighter project and was looking to Pakistan as a source. Kotil said he hoped to have “100 engineers” by the end of the year at NUST working on the fighter project and would be moving activities there from Turkey. He referred to NUST as being among the best research universities in the Asia-Pacific region.

Kotil said the TF-X is “like F-35”. Riaz said NUST had experience working on Project Azm, Pakistan's own fifth-generation fighter project. Riaz said NUST was working on smaller research projects offloaded from Turkey to Pakistan, but was looking to increase its work portfolio to include large projects.

Why Pakistan?

Turkish interest in collaborating with Pakistan on the fifth-generation fighter project is not new. Last year, Bloomberg reported Turkish officials saw “Pakistan as a strategic ally and potential partner in building... TF-X fighter jet.”

Interestingly, Kotil has previously referred to the TF-X as the “first big fighter jet of the Muslims”.

Bloomberg noted the apparent aim of the cooperation with Pakistan was to bring “Turkey closer to some of China’s military technology”. China has been Pakistan's main strategic benefactor for decades, helping Islamabad build fighter aircraft, missiles, warships, tanks and submarines.

TF-X history

Work on the TF-X project began in 2011. The TF-X is intended to be a medium-weight, twin-engine fighter. According to Turkish Aerospace, the TF-X will also use artificial intelligence and neural networks. It is intended to have key features of stealth aircraft such as “increased situational awareness, sensor fusion, low observability, weapon bay,” according to Turkish Aerospace.

Turkish Aerospace plans to fly the first prototype of the TF-X by 2025-26 and intends to export the fighter from the 2030s. The TF-X is expected to replace the F-16 in Turkish service. The Turkish Air Force is one of the largest export users of the F-16, having ordered around 240 aircraft.

Turkish Aerospace exhibited a mock-up of the TF-X at the recent Singapore Airshow.

Turkish Aerospace initially plans to use the US-built F110 engines to power the TF-X, but it is yet unclear whether the US Congress would allow export of the power plants. Turkey is also working to develop indigenous engines and has indicated it was ready to collaborate with Russia on the project.

📣 The Week is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@TheWeekmagazine) and stay updated with the latest headlines