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A Look at Ongoing Combat Aircraft Programs in Turkey

With the steadfast determination and dedication, the Turkish Air Force (TurAF) has been healing from the wounds of the July 15th bloody coup attempt, and currently has around 850 Pilots as well as some 265 Combat Aircraft in its inventory including 238 F-16C/D (35 x Block 30M, 1 x Block 30TM ÖZGÜR, 102 x Block 40M, 71 x Block 50M and 29 x Blok 50+) and some 25 F-4E 2020s (which were planned to be replaced by F-35As and to be phased out of TurAF service in 2020 but now expected to remain in service until 2025), 170 Trainers (including 68 T-38M jet trainers, 16 NF-5A/B 2000s [10 NF-5A 2000s and 6 NF-5B 2000s] in the Turkish Stars Acroteam inventory, 40 KT-1Ts, around 30 SF-260Ds and some 20 T-41Ds), and around 100 Transport/Support aircraft (including 9 A400M [+1 to be delivered], 4E-7T AEW&C aircraft, 19 C-130B/E Hercules [6 B and 13 E, undergoing avionics upgrades under the ERCİYES Project], some 8 C-160Ds [3 in transport, 3 in GÖREN ISR configuration and 2 in MilKar-2U Electronic Warfare configuration], 49 CN235-100M [45 in Transport/Air Ambulance/Training role, 3 in SIGINT/ELINT configuration and 1 in Open Skies Agreement (ASA) configuration], and 7 KC-135R Stratotankers).

Issue 102

The TurAF’s 238 F-16C/D fighters are currently operated by 8 different Squadrons (113th, 401st, 132nd, 151st, 161st, 181st, 193rd and 152nd) deployed at 7 different air bases (Eskisehir 1st MJB, Konya 3rd MJB, Merzifon 5th MJB, Bandırma 6th MJB, Diyarbakır 8th MJB, Balıkesir 9th MJB and İncirlik (Adana) 10th MJB) around Turkey. Most of them have been modernized to the latest Block 50+ standards under the PO-III and F-16 MSM/CCIP Programs. The F-16C/D Fighting Falcon combat aircraft, that forms the backbone of the TurAF’s airpower, will be deactivated from service starting from 2030 (Block 30 and Block 40 versions) and is to be replaced by Turkey’s next generation National Combat Aircraft (abbreviated as MMU in Turkish), also known as TF-X. There are also some 25 upgraded F-4E 2020 Phantom II all-weather fighter-bombers serving at the 111th Squadron that belong to the 1st Main Jet Base (MJB) Command located in Eskisehir. Starting from 2019 the F-4E 2020s were supposed to be replaced by F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters that Turkey, as a Level-III Partner of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program, planned to procure as many as 116 (100 x F-35A and 16 x F-35B). However, deliveries of F-35As to the TurAF were halted by the U.S. Government in July 2019. Four days after the start of 1st S-400 Triumph Air & Missile Defense System deliveries to Turkey on July 16, 2019 U.S. President Donald TRUMP announced that the U.S. would not sell F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. With this announcement Turkey’s participation in the F-35 Lightning II JSF Program was also suspended indefinitely. So, the 5th Generation TF-X/MMU will replace both the F-4E 2020 Phantom IIs and F-16C/D Fighting Falcon combat aircraft currently in the service of the TurAF during the first quarter of the 2030s.

The T-41Ds are used for Screening Flights, while the SF-260Ds are used for Primary Flight Training. T-41Ds and SF-260Ds have been planned to be replaced with MFI-395 Super Mushshak Primary Trainer Aircraft produced by Pakistan. Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), manufacturer of MFI-395 Super Mushshak Primary Trainer Aircraft, disclosed at the Dubai Airshow 2019 that they would start deliveries to the TurAF in June 2020. However, no deliveries have taken place so far, and this delay stems from COVID-19 pandemic. The T-38M Advanced Jet Trainer Aircraft will fly until 2030 and is then to be replaced by the New Generation Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) version of the HÜRJET (T-X) which is being developed by TUSAŞ.