Turkey is actively working together with Russia across the defence sphere, including on the development of an engine for Ankara’s next generation fighter jet, said the head of the Turkish defence industry on Sunday.
In an interview with Miliyet, Ismail Demir, the head of the Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB), said that Turkey could work together with Russia in the latter phase of development of its TF-X fighter jet. Demir described the possible Russian role as contributing to the localisation of certain systems for the TF-X.
“There are many provisions on cooperation in our talks with Russia. They include issues linked with the development of [Turkey’s] national warplanes,” said Demir. “During this process, talks may be held with the Russian side about concrete localization systems. Today, we are not discussing such a wide range of details.”
Demir’s consideration of working with Russia to bring the TF-X into service comes after years of speculation that Turkey could seek Russian fifth-generation fighters to replace its aging fleet of U.S-made F-16s. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan swatted down these rumours, saying in February 2020 that Turkey would be pursuing the TF-X as its replacement fighter.
Russian officials have insisted that Moscow remains ready to help with the completion of this project. On Nov. 14, Dmitry Shugayev, head of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC), said that Russia has “repeatedly expressed” readiness to assist Turkey in the development of a new fighter jet, but described talks to this end as still in the negotiation phase.
Alexander Mikheyev, the director general of the Russian state arms export agency Rosboronexport, added that cooperation was already ongoing with Turkey and that new ways of deepening their joint work are under discussion.
“Rosoboronexport is developing cooperation with Turkey in the field of military technical cooperation,” said Mikheyev last month. “We are ready to implement a wide range of relations both in the interests of the country’s air defense and other branches of the armed forces.”
Turkey’s defence ties with Russia have created difficulties for its air force’s ability to acquire a new fighter jet to replace its fourth generation F-16 fleet. Previously, Turkey was due to phase out the F-16 in favour of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that it was developing together with the United States and other NATO allies.
However, the purchase of the S-400 missile defence system in July 2019 led to Washington expelling Ankara from the program and denying it access to the 100 F-35s it was due to receive. In December 2020, the outgoing Trump administration sanctioned Turkey, eliciting scorn from Turkish and Russian officials.
Work on an indigenous fifth generation fighter, known as the TF-X, has been beset by numerous delays. Technical complications, including a struggle to obtain an engine necessary to power the jet, has delayed its entry into service repeatedly.