Fate of Turkish air force may resemble Iran’s - analyst

Turkey may have to maintain its F-16 fighter jet fleets for much longer than planned out of sheer necessity, similar to Shah-era Iran’s efforts to keep its aging F-4 jets in service for an extended period, analyst Paul Iddon wrote for Forbes on Tuesday.

Ankara’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems in 2019 resulted in the country’s removal from the United States’ F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter jet program. Washington has since sanctioned the ead of Turkey’s defence procurement agency, while the U.S. Congress has been freezing arms sales to the country since 2018.

These developments combined mean that Turkey will have a hard time getting help from the United States to upgrade its sizeable fleet of aging F-16s, or to procure parts for upgrades.

However, Ankara has reportedly already stockpiled spare parts before the S-400s were delivered, Iddon said. Turkey’s current fighter jets will need to be phased out in the next 10 to 15 years, he said.

“Ankara’s options for a fifth-generation fighter jet are, at the very least, severely constrained for the foreseeable future,” Iddon said. Turkey could buy Russian Su-57s, but such a move would further antagonise NATO and the United States. While the country is in the process of developing its own jet, the TF-X is not expected to be completed within this decade, he said.

Iran had acquired F-14, F-4 and F-5 fighter jets in the 1970s, during the last Shah’s time in government, and had planned to buy some 300 F-16s until the 1979 revolution ended diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran.

Unlike Iran, Turkey has the capability to manufacture F-16s and various parts for them. Meanwhile, Tehran has managed to keep some F-14s operational, 40 years on.

“Perhaps,” said Iddon, “going into the 2030s, many of Turkey’s present-day Block 50 F-16s will also still be in frontline service outfitted with more locally-built Turkish components and weapons systems.”

Turkey may eventually risk buying Su-35 jets from Russia, but even under such a scenario, the aircraft would be a supplement to its F-16s, and not a full replacement, Iddon said.