TF-X National Combat Aircraft Development Programme & UK Industry

by İbrahim SÜNNETÇİ

In order to meet Turkish Air Force (TurAF) requirements beyond the 2030s, the TF-X National Combat Aircraft (Milli Muharip Uçak/MMU) Development Program was launched in accordance with Decision No 545 adopted at Defense Industry Executive Committee (DIEC) dated 15 December 2010. The MMU/TF-X was planned to replace the F-16C/D Combat Aircraft starting from 2030 and TAI was selected as the Prime Contractor and the Contract for Conceptual Design Development Project was signed between Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM) and TAI on August 23, 2001.

Under the ‘Concept Development and Preliminary Design Phase’, which is the first phase of the Program, TAI designated SAAB Aircraft Company as their Technical Support and Assistance Provider (TSAP). Under the contract involving a 24-month schedule that came into force on 29 September 2011, between September 2011 - September 2013, Prime Contractor TAI prepared three separate conceptual designs with technical support provided by SAAB Aircraft. These three configurations are named as; FX-1 (configuration with double engine, back wing and conventional tail design such as F/A-18, EuroFighter, Rafale and Mig-29), FX-5 (configuration with single engine, back wing and conventional tail design) and FX-6 (configuration with single engine, broad delta wing and front wings). It is anticipated that a single engine fighter aircraft (FX-5 and FX-6) would feature between 50,000-60,000lb of maximum take-off weight (MToW) and the double engine concept (FX-1) will have 60,000-70,000lb of MToW. Performance analyses have been carried out on all three designs/concepts and it was seen that they all meet the TurAF’s requirements almost at the rate of 100%. Under the ‘Concept Development and Preliminary Design Phase’, on September 29, 2013 TAI submitted the report for the designs and the results of the efforts carried out during the past two years to the SSM. 

The entire document package, including aircraft specifications, development program plan and budget estimates, which was completed and delivered at the end of the Conceptual Design Development Project, was accepted by SSM in early 2014. Although during the SSİK meeting held on May 6, 2014 the decision for the initiation of Engineering Development & Preliminary Design Phase was expected to be taken for the subsequent phase of the Project, the project was only taken into the agenda at the SSİK meeting held on January 7, 2015. At the meeting, the decision was taken to initiate the Engineering Development & Preliminary Design Phase within the scope of the TF-X National Combat Aircraft Development Program.

A Request for Information (RFI)was issued by SSM on March 13, 2015 to the international aviation companies capable to design, develop and/or produce the 5th Generation Combat Aircraft for the Engineering Development & Preliminary Design Phase initiated by the SSIK Decision dated January 7, 2015. The related RFI, originally addressed to nine international companies, however was only by BAE Systems, SAAB Aircraft and Airbus Defense & Space (ADS) submitted their responses to the SSM in April 2015. TAI was designated as the Prime Contractor for the MMU/TF-X Development Program’s Engineering Development & Preliminary Design Phase in line with the SSIK Decision taken in April 2015.

Under the Engineering Development & Preliminary Design Phase, which will end up with completion of Preliminary Design Phase, beyond the design and development of TF-X aircraft, engineering capabilities, technology development activities (for key sensors like radar, electronic warfare. etc.), test infrastructures establishment and certification processes will be performed and extensive capabilities for a new generation jet fighter design, development and production will be gained by the Turkish Defence & Aerospace Industry. 

In June 2015, an RfP was issued by SSM to BAE Systems, SAAB Aircraft and ADS companies that responded to RFI. As per the evaluation of proposals, BAE Systems Company has come to the forefront as a candidate for the Foreign Cooperation Company (FCC/YIF) to provide technical support for certain fields to the Prime Contractor TAI, within the scope of MMU/TF-X Development Programme Engineering Development & Preliminary Design Phase, which covers the design, development, production, test and certification studies of MMU/TFX prototypes (total of seven aircraft). As a result of the proposal evaluations conducted during the FCC selection process, it was decided to start negotiations for the contract with the British BAE Systems Company on November 12, 2015 and as from December 2015, the Pre-Contract Studies with BAE Systems started.

MMU/TF-X Programme will be carried out under three periods as the Design and Prototype Qualification (Period I), Acquisition of Initial Operation Capability and Full Operation Capability (Period II) and Mass Production (Period III). A preliminary agreement was signed on July 14, 2016 during the Farnborough International Airshow 2016 (FIA ‘16) in London between the Prime Contractor TAI and SSM for the Engineering Development & Preliminary Design Phase (Period I, Phase I), which is expected to last four years. Signatures for the official agreement were put in Ankara on August 5, 2016. In 2016, it was decided to continue the project with twin-engine aircraft configurations. Pre-Contract Studies with FCC candidate BAE Systems were conducted in 2016 and negotiations with alternative FCC candidate Airbus Defense & Space (ADS) were initiated in November 2016 in order to serve as the basis for the final selection decision. ADS Company presented the report on the technical evaluations as of the end of 2016. 

On January 28, 2017 in the presence of the Prime Ministers of Turkey and the United Kingdom, BAE Systems and TAI signed a US$156 Million valued Heads of Agreement (HoA) to collaborate under the Engineering Development & Preliminary Design Phase of the TF-X Program. In addition, the Letter of Agreement (LoA) has been signed during the IDEF ‘17 Fair in Istanbul. The UK Department for International Trade brought an Open General Export License (OGEL) into effect on July 28, 2017. The OGEL will allow companies involved in the development of the TF-X Programme to apply for licenses to export goods, software and technology from a range of control list classifications, including air launched munitions, fire-control equipment, aircraft components, propulsion systems, ground support equipment, electronic equipment, training and simulation equipment, imaging and countermeasure equipment, and specialized forgings, fittings and coatings. The TAI-BAE Systems Collaboration Agreement was signed and entered in to effect on August 25, 2017.

As of June 2018, the Engineering Development & Preliminary Design Phase is continuing and planned to be completed in 2021. The 4-year scheduled Engineering Development & Preliminary Design Phase is expected to cost around US$1.3 Billion and to be followed by 8-year scheduled Critical Design Review (CDR) and Prototype Production and Qualification Phases, which planned to cost around US$7.3 Billion. At the end of 12-year and US$8.6 Billion expenses seven flying TF-X prototypes will be manufactured for the test, evaluation and qualification purposes. Another US$14 Billion is earmarked for the serial production of the TF-X fighters, bringing the total budget for the project to US$20 Billion. Meanwhile in April 2018, it was announced that the TF-X Programme will be realized within a Project-based incentive system. In this context for the Engineering Development & Preliminary Design Phase TAI has received a TL4.8 Billion (US$1.16 Billion) incentive certificate under the incentive Programme. According to current estimation the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) Phase of the TF-X Programme will employ 3,200 people, with an indirect employment contribution estimated to be around 11,200 people.

On June 22, 2018 TAI signed a cooperation agreement with Dassault Systèmes for the implementation and maintenance of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform within TF-X Programme. 3DEXPERIENCE platform delivers seamless integration between data management and industry-leading design and process capabilities. TAI states through a written statement, collaboration with Dassault Systèmes will include data security and quick design processes of the company’s original projects, while the software will be used primarily in the TF-X fighter, one of the authentic products of the Turkish industrial giant. In April 2018 TAI President & CEO Temel Kotil disclosed that to utilize under Preliminary Design Phase of the TF-X Programme, TAI has procured a 10.000-core computer and it was being setting up at TAI facilities.

TF-X Development Programme is being carried out under the coordination of TF-X Programme Management Office (PMO), comprising of representatives from TurAF National Combatant Branch Office, SSM, TAI and BAE Systems personnel.  As part of its reorganization effort TAI has established MMU/TF-X Department.

To carry out TF-X Programme TAI is constructing a new facility at the Ankara Aerospace Industrial Zone, a total of 2,700 engineers will be employed at this facility. According to TAI President & CEO Temel Kotil, TF-X will feature Acoustic Heating Technology and during next 10-years period a total of 10,000 Turkish and foreign (including the ones from the BAE Systems) engineers from different disciplines and with supersonic fighter design and manufacture experience (know-how) will work under the Programme. Under the contract BAE System will provide 400 man/year engineering support for a period of 4 years to TAI under the Engineering Development & Preliminary Design Phase of the TF-X Program.

In order to meet TurAF’s operational requirements properly, the 60,000lb class TF-X will be equipped with twin turbofan engines, with Low Observability and Super Cruise capabilities. According to TAI President & CEO Kotil when entered in TurAF service the TF-X will have indigenous turbofans each generating 27,000lb thrust. The first TF-X prototype was expected to achieve its maiden flight in 2023, when Turkey will celebrate 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic, but this schedule was renewed in March 2018 when TAI President & CEO Kotil disclosed that first flight will be achieved in 2026 with engines to be procured from abroad (such as EuroJet EJ200, F414-GE-400 of GE or Saturn AL-31 of Russian United Engine Corporation [UEC/ODK]). In June 2018, TF-X first flight date was renewed once again according to current plan TF-X prototype will perform its maiden flight in 2027. The first of an envisioned 150 production TF-X aircraft expected to leave TAI facilities in 2029 and to enter service in 2031. Deliveries will continue until 2039 and TF-X aircraft will be phased out from the Turkish Air Force inventory after 2070s.

TF-X Aircraft and Turbofan Engine

National Combat Aircraft (Milli Muharip Uçak/MMU) TF-X will be a single-seat, twin-engine next generation fighter (based on FX-1 concept) with stealth features and new generation avionics. Replacing the F-16C/Ds currently in Turkish Air Force (TurAF) service during the first quarter of 2030s the TF-X will be a fifth-generation indigenous air superiority fighter with secondary ground attack capability, which will escort and provide air protection to TurAF’s F-35A Lighting II fleet. The TurAF currently operates 238 F-16C/D aircraft and Turkey is likely to procure some 150 TF-X in the long term to replace F-16s.

In December 2017 TAI released the technical specifications of TFX. According to TAI, the TF-X will measure 19 meters (60ft) long, have a 12-meter wingspan, around 60m² (670ft²) wing area and a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 60,000lbs + (27,215kg+). To be powered with a pair of over 20,000lb class turbofan engines the TF-X is intended to have a maximum speed of Mach 2, a service ceiling of over 55,000 feet, and a combat radius of over 600 nautical miles.  

Aselsan is working on a on a domestic gallium-nitride Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, Electronic Warfare System, Digital Cockpit with a large central display screen, Integrated Modular Avionics Mission Computer and an Infrared Search and Tract (IRST) System for the TF-X. According to Aselsan AESA radar and EW System will be in integrated configuration. The final configuration of the indigenous AESA radar will be completed when the design of the TF-X become matured. It is not known at the moment whether the TF-X will have a single multi-mode main front AESA antenna on the nose or will also feature side-looking arrays and L-band arrays mounted in the wing leading edges as it is seen on the Su-57/T-50 aircraft. During EuroAsia 2018 Airshow, in April 2018 TAI signed a preliminary contract with Aselsan for the development of indigenous AESA radar, EW and electro-optical (IRIST) systems for the TF-X fighter.

Within the scope of efforts initiated regarding the procurement of 7-sets of turbofan engines to be used on TF-X prototypes, an RFP was issued by the SSM on January 17, 2014 through TAI to EuroJet Turbo GmbH, General Electric (GE), Pratt & Whitney (P&W), RosoboronExport and Snecma. While GE (F414-GE-400 and F110-GE-129), EuroJet (EJ200) and Snecma (M88-4E) companies submitted their proposals to TAI in late June 2014, P&W and RosoboronExport did not deliver any proposals. 

As a result of the Feasibility Studies conducted under coordination of SSM for the development of new engine in compliance with the requirements of MMU/TF-X, it was decided to launch a new tender process for the development of a totally new national engine, the IP rights of which would belong to Turkey (SSM), with a foreign engine supplier/Technical Support Provider, by cancelling the tender process initiated in 2014. Within this frame, the official letter stating the cancellation of the first tender was sent by SSM in mid-2017 to the engine manufacturers, who had submitted their proposals. Then SSM issued a new tender and received proposals from TEI (without GE) and TAEC (Kale Group and Rolls-Royce JV company) in December 2017, while EuroJet decided not to not participate in the tender. TEI committed to make everything from scratch within the scope of the Project, to develop an indigenous turbofan engine, the IP rights of which will belong to Turkey, to certify and deliver it to SSM within 14.5 years by completing the qualification process. 

On May 8, 2017 Kale Group announced that they will set up a joint venture company (TAEC, 51% Kale Group and 49% Rolls-Royce) with UK-based Rolls-Royce to develop civilian and fighter aircraft engines including for Turkey’s planned TF-X fighter jet. According to Kale Group if they are selected they will develop the first production engine until 2023 and start to mass production of the engine by 2030 following the completion of all certification processes. According to Chris Cholerton, President of Rolls-Royce Defence Aerospace, they plan to develop an engine from scratch for the planned TF-X fighter jet and Turkey will hold the intellectual property (IP) rights of this new engine. Rolls-Royce previously developed the XG-40 core engine that forms a basis also for EJ200 engine’s core. 

Winner of the tender will cooperate with TR Motor Company (TAI [35%] + BMC [55%] + SSM [10%]) for the development and manufacture of 27,000lb turbofan engine.

During Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s official visit to the UK, that took place during May 13-15, 2018, Undersecretary of Defense Industries Prof. Ismail Demir and British Minister for Defense Procurement Guto Bebb signed a Letter of Intent (LoI) Agreement. The LoI stipulates that the result of the Rolls-Royce bid should be finalized by July 31, 2018. 


Engines mounted on military aircraft provide the required power not only for the aircraft but also for the modern avionics and sensor that will be available on the aircraft. Since the power required for the cooling of electronic devices that will be available on MMU/TF-X, which is expected to feature stealth technology, will be provided by the engine as well (just like F-35 MTU/JSF). It will be a good practice to develop an engine model that would have the expansion potential and, ensure additional power enhancement with just a software modification/upgrade when required, considering the improvements the aircraft will go through (Block 1, Block 2 etc.) during its service life, which is 30 years on average. On the other hand, enhancing the engine’s thrust power (in addition to the improvements on compressor and high-pressure turbine) is also directly related with the rate of the air flow going into the engine, therefore, the air inlet design on the aircraft. Considering this fact, the early selection of the engine type will allow the finalization of the air inlet design for MMU/TF-X aircraft, during the prototype phase without requiring additional R&D expenditure in further stages of the Programme.