Turkey faces risk of losing air superiority without F-35s - analyst

Without F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter jets in its inventory, Turkey will have drawbacks against its regional rivals over time, Sinan Ülgen, chairman of the Istanbul based think tank Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, said on Tuesday.

Ülgen maintained that the Turkish Air Force had planned its transformation for the F-35s since 2007 and the national combat aircraft TF-X project would come next to the F-35s.

“In Turkey’s initial air defence planning, there was no aim to choose the national combat aircraft over the F-35s. The plans were to have both together,” Ülgen said. “From a technical point of view, the F-35 and the national combat aircraft have different objectives, features and capabilities.”

Considering Turkey’s aging F-16 fleet, the country risked losing its air superiority in the next 5-10 years, Ülgen said. “It is not possible to eliminate this risk with drones. The functions of drones are very different.”

As a result, for the next decade or until the national combat aircraft enters Turkish army’s inventory, “we can say that the risk of losing air superiority over its rivals is quite high”, Ülgen said.

There is uncertainty as to when the domestically developed combat aircraft will enter Turkey’s inventory, the analyst said, and that it is likely that the national aircraft will not fully cover all the capabilities of the U.S.-developed F-35’s.

Turkey was a partner in the development for the new generation fighter jets, however, Pentagon removed Ankara from the programme over the purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems.

Washington maintains that the S-400s are incompatible with NATO systems and pose a security risk.