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TF-X: Turkey’s New Stealth Fighter Is a Giant Question Mark

The premiere prototype of Turkey’s new stealth fighter platform is reportedly ready for its formal rollout this week after successfully completing a series of taxi tests in recent days. Last year, Turkish Aerospace Industries revealed imagery of its new TF-X next-generation fighter and claimed that the airframe could take its maiden flight in 2023.

Turkey’s manufacturing capabilities have proven to be robust, considering the influx of domestically produced Bayraktar TB2 combat drones delivered to Ukraine over the last year. Ankara’s desire to build its own homegrown fifth-generation fighter platform is the country’s latest effort to brand itself as a dominant weapons and equipment manufacturer.

Introducing the TF-X Airframe

Turkey’s Defense Industry Executive Committee (SSIK) initially conceptualized the development of an indigenous fighter back in 2010. Hoping to create a platform that could replace the Turkish Air Force’s aging fleet of F-16 airframes, the committee opted to embark on a next-generation air-superiority fighter that could operate with other critical assets like the U.S.-made F-35 Lightning II jet. Ultimately, Washington removed Ankara from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan purchased Russia’s S-400 defense system –a violation of the White House’s demands. 

 We Don’t Know Much

What we know about Turkey’s new fifth-generation platform remains limited to what aviation buffs can discern from available pictures and videos.

According to The Drive, the latest images of the airframe indicate a novel sensor configuration at the front end of the airframe, consistent with an “infrared search and track” (IRST) sensor system, which could have other functions, as well, positioned on top of the nose in front of the cockpit in a fixed faceted low-observable enclosure, and a multi-purpose electro-optical targeting system, or EOTS, below the forward fuselage.

This arrangement, unique among known advanced fighter jet designs currently fielded or in development, could offer significant benefits.” 

Similar to the F-35, the TF-X is reportedly a multi-role airframe built for air-to-air missiles. In addition to networked drone control and a modern internal weapons bay, the jet allegedly features cutting-edge radar and ground attack capabilities. 

A potential engine partnership between the United Kingdom’s Rolls-Royce manufacturer and Turkish Aerospace Industries was discussed in the past, however, intellectual property rights issues prevented a deal from taking place. Today, the TF-X platform reportedly sports the same General Electric F110 American-made engines that power Turkey’s fourth-generation F-16 jets. 

Congress is Holding Out on Providing Ankara With Additional F-16 Fighters

Turkey’s existing fleet of airframes largely consists of F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters, which the country first procured in the 1980s under the “Peace-Onyx-1” deal with America. 

In 2021, Ankara requested to purchase 40 additional F-16 jets and roughly 80 modernization kits for its current airframes. In February, the U.S. Congress said it would not support the nearly $20 billion sale of new Fighting Falcons to Turkey until Erdogan agrees to allow Sweden and Finland entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). 


TF-X. Image Credit: Creative Commons.


TF-X fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.


TF-X Concept Image. Image Credit: Industry Handout.

Unable to depend on the U.S. for additional airframes, Ankara is hoping the production of its own homegrown fifth-generation fighters will fulfill its aviation needs. Tensions between Turkey and Greece have escalated in recent years, making the possibility of a future kinetic operation plausible. The TF-X platform would certainly aid Turkey’s military ambitions in Aegan Sea. 

Maya Carlin is a Senior Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.



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