Turkey facing limited options to update ageing air force

Turkey’s options to update its ageing air force are limited due to its strained relations with many countries, an analyst writing for Forbes said on Tuesday.

Turkey’s fighter jet fleet consists entirely of fourth-generation U.S.-built F-16 Fighting Falcons and older F-4 Phantom IIs, defence analyst Paul Iddon said. 

But it will likely be at least another decade until Turkey can deploy a fifth-generation fighter jet. 

Turkey was suspended from the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet programme after purchasing the S-400 air defence missile systems from Russia and it had its order for at least 100 of the jets cancelled by the United States.

Turkey is building its own fifth-generation warplane, the TAI TF-X, but that will not likely become operational until at least the 2030s, Iddon said.

In the meantime, the Turkish air force may need more advanced 4.5 generation jets as a stopgap to gradually replace Turkey’s older F-16s and F-4s.

“This could well prove quite difficult for Turkey given its strained relations with the various countries that can sell it these type of jets,” Iddon said.

Due to Turkey’s rivalry with France, Paris will not likely sell it jets. Turkey could opt for Eurofighter Typhoons from Britain.

Last year, Turkey contemplated buying either Russian 4.5 generation Su-35s or fifth-generation Su-57s - although the latter remains in the prototype stage.

But if Turkey opts for Su-35s, or if its seeks jets from China, that would strain its relations with NATO further and increase the risk of U.S. sanctions.

“Turkey has hinted, on multiple occasions, that it would look to Russia,” for new fighter jets, Aaron Stein, the Director of Research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Middle East Program, told Forbes.

“The Russians have said that there have been preliminary talks for the Su-35, but those talks do not appear to have ever been advanced, nor do they appear to be active at this moment,” Stein said.

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