A new Turkish study shows that the Turkish Air Force is outdated. Kan Kasapoglu, director of the Security and Defense Program at the Turkish Research Center EDAM, wrote a report in Forbes magazine in which he said that “the capabilities of the Turkish Air Force are facing a serious test over the next ten to twenty years.”
Kasapoglu describes the weakness of the Turkish air force as a “technical generation problem.” The Turkish Air Force’s fourth- and third-generation F-16s – which are essentially Cold War aircraft – are nearing the end of their useful life. Turkish plans to replace it with 100 fifth-generation F-35A stealth fighters have collapsed after Turkey was expelled from the F-35 program amid US anger over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles. Meanwhile, Turkey’s opponents – including Greece and Israel – are receiving F-35s, or 4.5-generation fighters like the French Rafale fighter.
Kasapoglu warns that “if no compromise is found, the Turkish air force will lag behind global trends.”
The report notes that giving up the F-35s in favor of the S-400s was a bad deal. He adds: “Turkey’s defense planning and national security requirements are not suitable for a heavy-duty SAM force structure. The strategic S-400 system, which has just entered the Turkish Armed Forces stockpile, will not operate at the required level due to deficiencies in the network-centered architecture.”
The report emphasized that armed drones are not a substitute for the F-35. Turkey gained a reputation as a powerhouse of drones after Turkish-made TB2 and Israeli-made Harup drones destroyed Armenian troops and armored vehicles during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, but the Turkish Research Center’s Security and Defense Program rejects the idea that drones could replace advanced manned aircraft.
“Although there is potential for change in the range of artificial intelligence and algorithmic warfare, the norms of air warfare are still forming around manned platforms.” It said.
This leaves the TF-X project to develop a domestic fifth-generation stealth fighter by 2029. But problems with finding a suitable engine from overseas manufacturers “may extend the time needed to bring in inventory,” according to the Turkish Research Center’s Security and Defense Program.
According to the program, the Turkish Air Force will not only feel the loss of the F-35. The loss threatens the Turkish Navy’s plans for an amphibious assault ship – primarily a light aircraft carrier – equipped with F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing aircraft.
The study warns of Turkey’s weakness in air and missile defense. Turkish forces in northern Syria have been bombed by Syrian and Russian aircraft, while foreign planes bombed a Turkish air base in Libya in 2020 after Turkish forces intervened in the Libyan civil war.
“The air defense of combat elements deployed in the front of the Turkish Armed Forces and cross-border bases has become an increasingly dangerous requirement in the lessons learned from the Libyan and Syrian experience,” says the Turkish Research Center’s Security and Defense Program.
The report notes that Turkey is also surrounded by countries that have ballistic missiles, including Syria, Armenia, Iran and Russia. Even here, the loss of the F-35 is a problem: the stealth aircraft and advanced sensors can play a vital role in missile defense, both as interceptors and by launching strikes against missile launchers.
The report shows that Turkey has only one real solution to maintaining its air power. It should return to its priority as the F-35. The aforementioned political advice is of great importance for both the combat capabilities of the Turkish Air Force, the technological and economic gains, and the employability of the Turkish defense industry.