Thursday, October 8, 2009

Turkey to possibly buy 20 more F-35 fighters

Turkey is considering raising the number of new generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, or JSF, Lightning II aircraft it plans to buy from 100 to 120, paying at least $2 billion more than earlier planned.

The F-35 is being developed and built by a consortium led by the U.S. firm Lockheed Martin. The consortium's members also include companies from several European allies, including Turkey. "We may buy 120 JSF aircraft instead of 100," Murad Bayar, head of the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Turkey's potential decision to buy 120 F-35s would bring the cost of Ankara's program from to at least $13 billion from $11 billion. The country’s eventual decision on the number of fighters to be acquired will depend on the amount of financing available in the upcoming years, another procurement official familiar with the fighter program said.

In 2007, Turkey announced its intention to buy 100 F-35s. Last year, Parliament approved a law under which Turkish industry would take part in the production of the F-35 under Lockheed Martin's leadership. Turkey must formally commit to buying a specific number of F-35s next year.

No Eurofighters soon

Turkey's potential decision to raise the number of F-35s to 120 means that it will not buy the rival Eurofighter Typhoon in the near future. "We may consider buying some Eurofighters after 2020," Bayar said. "We don't rule out that option after that year." The Typhoon is being manufactured by the Eurofighter consortium whose members are Britain, Italy, Germany and Spain. The consortium has been seeking to sell at least one squadron of 20 Typhoons to the Turkish Air Force since 2005. Tusas Aerospace Industries, or TAI, and several other Turkish companies have secured contracts to produce F-35 parts worth more than $4 billion, procurement officials say.

Other programs

Presently Lockheed Martin is also helping upgrade nearly 210 Turkish F-16 Block 30 and Block 40 fighters. Bayar said the modernization process, worth around $1.1 billion, will be completed by 2011. Under a $1.8 billion agreement signed last year, Lockheed Martin will also sell 30 F-16 Block 50s to Turkey. Bayar said deliveries would begin in late 2011 or early 2012.

Turkey is expected to receive the first F-35 around 2015. The 30 F-16 Block 50s are being purchased as a stop-gap solution until the F-35s arrive. Planning to buy between 100 and 120 F-35s and 30 new F-16 Block 50s while upgrading its present F-16s and modernizing its older F-4Es, Turkey will have one of the most modern air forces in Europe in a few years.


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