UK’s deal with Turkey on TF-X fighter jet deal faces trouble - analysis


After months of delicate diplomacy, the UK’s alleged partnership with Turkey to build a fifth generation fighter jet, the TF-X, has run into trouble, says the Financial Times.

The article published on Monday recalls initial concerns about the management of intellectual property raised this year by Rolls-Royce, the British aero-engine group that has been working with Turkish industrial giant Kale to bid for the engine development contract on what is set to become Turkey’s first indigenous combat aircraft. 

Concerns over the project, which appeared to have been resolved after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s high-profile visit to London last month, have resurfaced, the article states, citing the involvement of a subsidiary of BMC, the Turkish defence manufacturer that has the Qatari government, and a businessman with close links to Mr Erdogan, as shareholders.

Turkish defence officials have demanded that Rolls-Royce hand over sensitive technology.

The TF-X jet project looked like a good return on UK investment in the relationship, the article opines, and failure to strike a deal would be a lost revenue opportunity for Rolls-Royce — and BAE Systems, which is also involved.

However,  the ramifications for the UK’s air defence capability are far greater, it says.

 The TF-X could also help to fix a pressing problem at home. Production of the Eurofighter Typhoon will cease in the mid-2020s. There is no new defence programme to maintain the UK’s sovereign capability to design and develop a combat jet. Last summer France and Germany announced plans to develop their own fighter, and could eventually include the UK. Britain and France have a solid record in defence co-operation, but post-Brexit the UK may only have a back-seat role. The TF-X might allow the UK to maintain crucial expertise and a skilled workforce until the government’s options are clearer.

While underlining that the UK has yet to figure out how best to defend projects with a billion-pound price tag, the article points out that the popular argument that that sovereign capability in combat aircraft is worth almost any price.

‘’The UK air defence industry needs a clearer flight path. A new combat air strategy and a review of defence capability promised this year could provide it,’’ the Financial Times points out.  

If Gavin Williamson, the combative UK defence secretary, would produce the reviews before the Farnborough Air show in July, it would send a signal to Europe and Turkey that the UK has a serious plan where defence is concerned, it says.