TAI TF-X (F-X) Experimental Fifth Generation Fighter Concept
No longer content on purchasing foreign military goods, Turkey has undertaken local programs that look to stock the western Asian power from within.
Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
For decades, the modern Turkish air force relied on Western partners to stock its available inventory. Prospects changed when, during the 1980s, the government inked a deal that would allow local license production of the General Dynamics (now Lockheed) F-16 Fighting Falcon lightweight 4th Generation Fighter. This provided Turkish workers and engineers with the groundwork to further local aviation knowledge and experience which has ultimately evolved today to become a standalone operation with ever-growing capabilities for the nation of Turkey. As such, Turkey stands to distance itself from its reliance on foreign providers of its military requirements in the long term and has set its sights on an indigenous 5th Generation Fighter concept recognized under the "TFX" program name (also known as the "F-X"). Turkey now joins the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea as the handful of nations committed to - or feeling out - the 5th Generation Fighter process. The primary goal of the Turkish program is to find a indigenous successor to the storied and excellent F-4 Phantom II and early-model F-16 platforms while also complementing the soon-to-be Lockheed F-35 "Lightning II" which the Turkish Air Force is expecting to procure in some number. The initial two-year concept phase for the TFX was begun in 2011. In March of 2013, Saab of Sweden was brought in to help support the TFX program from a technological standpoint. Tusas Engine Industries (TEI) is charged with production of the required powerplant.
As it stands today (2013), the TFX resides in three distinct conceptual forms. The foremost favored by the Turkish Air Force is a single-engined airframe with blended wing-to-fuselage lines, a forward-set single-seat cockpit and conventional main-and-tail wing appendages (as in the F-22's unique "diamond" shape). The lean towards a single-engined fighter would ease logistical commitments to the aircraft in both short-term procurement and long-term maintenance costs. The second concept largely borrows the same design though it features a larger fuselage to house the two required turbofan engines within a blended wing/fuselage design. All other facets of the concept remain faithful to the single-engined design. Of course a commitment to a twin-engined fighter would increase procurement costs and maintenance costs over the life of the aircraft though, in turn, providing higher performance and additional internal weapons bays. The third - and most radical - of the concepts becomes a canard-delta planform along a single-engined fuselage intended for high agility handling - similar to the Saab Gripen or Dassault Rafale.
The TFX concepts all share basic intended 5th Generation Fighter qualities including a combination of blended and faceted surfaces, "stealthy" skin coatings and an Active, Electronically-Scanned Array (AESA) radar facility. Regardless of engine make and model, the concept is determined to showcase "supercruise" capabilities in reaching the speed of sound sans the use of thirsty afterburner. Additional internal volume will be used for internal weapons bays as featured in both the F-22 and F-35 developments. Another rather ambitious program goal will be integration from the cockpit to accompanying UAVs through a protected datalink connection. All told, the TFX concept will be similar in scope to the F-22 as an air dominance fighter with internal bays outfitted with both short- and medium-ranged homing/guided ordnance. There may be provision added for the air-to-ground role to fit the F-35 mold (however, as a complement to the F-35, the air dominance role is more likely). With that said, the actual end-product will ultimately rest firmly upon the inherent capabilities of the Turkish aerospace complex as a whole - regardless of how much foreign technical assistance is received. TEI itself will most likely not originate a whole new engine through an expensive design and development endeavor, instead relying on an existing foreign powerplant from Europe, the United States or perhaps even Russia - Turkey maintains historical ties with all three regions.
The Turkish government will formally review the TFX program based on the initial phase concepts in late 2013 before deciding on - or against - pursuing the development phase going forward. It is conceivable that the TFX may involve another major financial/technological contributor to help ease design, development and production costs (similar to the partnerships inherent in recent European aviation products). Should the TFX program be rejected, it stands that the Turkish Air Force - in its recent partnership with Saab - would perhaps settle on the 4th Generation Gripen fighters for the long term. If the TFX program comes to fruition, however, the Turkish Air Force stands to accept somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 aircraft based on the selected TFX concept. Unlike the F-35 - which is limited in its export reach - the TFX end-product could be sold to interested export parties without US-instituted restrictions and the F-35's hefty price tag.
January 2015 - It was announced that the Turkish military will proceed with plans to flesh out the TFX requirement in an effort to produce an indigenous Fifth Generation Fighter solution. The program is expected to include design input from Swedish aircraft maker Saab with a target year first flight of 2023.
July 2016 - The Turkish government has approved the TF-X program, this announced at Farnborough Air Show.
January 2017 - An agreement between TAI and BAe Systems has been announced. UK-based BAe was selected as a foreign partner in 2015. A prototype first-flight is now scheduled for sometime in 2023, pushing an in-service date for a production-quality fighter from 2025 to 2030. The initial agreement covers a $150 million commitment.
May 2017 - Britain and Turkey have formally inked a deal to develop the TF-X fighter jointly. The target year for a first-flight is 2023. Service entry is now planned for 2029. An all-new-build engine will now be considered and developed jointly between Rolls-Royce (Britain) and Kale Group (Turkey) under the joint-venture banner label of Turkish Aero Engine Company. Other engine players still in competition include Eurojet (EJ200) and General Electric.