Turkey's Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB) announced on Sunday that it will make necessary changes to extend the longevity of the country's F-16 fighter jets from 8,000 hours to 12,000 hours.
“Structural upgrades of the F-16 Block 30 aircraft continue. In the project, 1,200-1,500 pieces of structural parts per aircraft are being renovated, and repair and replacement work are being carried out if necessary with body reinforcement,” the head of the SSB, Ismail Demir, said on his Twitter account.
He also said that TUSAS Engine Industries (TEI) is leading the project to increase the lifetime of the F-16 military aircrafts by 4,000 hours.
The F-16 upgrade is crucial for Ankara in light of the US sanctions that blocked the delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. Washington's approach towards Ankara has been inconsistent — sometimes warm and sometimes cold— ever since the Turkish defence ministry procured the Russian S-400 air defence systems.
Turkey has repeatedly said that if Washington had given its NATO ally the US-made Patriot air defence system, it wouldn't have turned to Moscow and bought the S-400 technology.
Turkey’s indigenous TF-X National Combat Aircraft (MMU) programme — a joint project by the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and SSB — will be ready to realise its maiden flight by using a domestic engine in 2029.
Turkey, therefore, wants to extend the use of its current F-16 fighters until the date it will have its homegrown MMU, a fifth-generation jet with similar features to Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II. The TF-Xs could remain in service until the 2070s.
Turkey's next generation stealth fighter jet
The TAI TF-X Turkish fighter jets are set to combine the best of a stealth air-superiority fighter with additional ground attack capabilities and an impressive array of sensors, cutting-edge radar, networked drone control and hypersonic missile capacity.
Although many would think that this attempt came after Ankara’s exclusion from the F-35 programme, Turkey started developing its first fifth-generation fighters even before its role in the F-35 programme ended.
The fighter jet will feature two engines, a single pilot, and stealth features such as internal weapons bays - a single pilot gives engineers that much more room to pack an increasing amount of technology into the plane. This is only possible with heavy automation that lets the pilot focus on the mission target, instead of running the fighter jet.
Double the engines mean a faster speed, ensuring that energy-intensive manoeuvres don't bleed too much of the plane's velocity which could otherwise leave it vulnerable or outperformed by a faster opponent.
When speaking of stealth, externally-mounted weapons increase the aircraft’s visibility on the radars. The TF-X will also include stealth features such as an advanced carbon-composite body that aims to be radar reflective.
Performance-wise, the TF-X is planned to have a maximum speed of twice the speed of sound, and an operational range of nearly 1,111 km until it runs out of fuel, exceeding the US F-35 stealth fighter in terms of speed, maximum operational height, and matching it in terms of operational range.
The fighter jet is 21 metres long, with a large 14-metre wingspan. It will reportedly use an advanced glass cockpit with a voice-command interface and data-links so that it controls up to two friendly drones, which may be developed to fire air-to-ground or air-to-air missiles.
This particular feature of TF-X could allow it to stalk targets at a distant range without being spotted, sending drones to fire weapons without exposing itself to fire.
Aside from the standard repertoire of missiles the fighter jet will be able to carry, Aselsan is set to produce the sensors and avionics of the fighter jet. Aselsan is also currently developing an AESA radar, (Active Electronically Scanned Arrays), which would allow the plane to focus radar in different directions without moving a thing.
Thanks to its own fifth-generation fighter, Turkey would stand to profit by selling it to other countries, while enjoying increased national security with a supply chain that can’t be threatened by sanctions.