By Bijan Razzaghi
Despite the senate passing a new defense bill to block the sale of 100 F-35As to the Turkish Air Force, the first F-35As will arrive in Turkey on Thursday June 21st. The reasons for the Senates attempts to block the F-35A sale was due to Turkeys purchase of the S-400 Surface to Air missile system as well as a number of other reasons related to disputes between Turkish and American official’s. If the delivery of the F-35A was not fulfilled Turkey would of likely purchased the Su-57 from Russia. The Su-57 is sold as Russia’s answer to the F-35.
Turkey became part of the F-35 program since 2002 and TAI (Turkish Aerospace Industries) have supplied hardware for all production F-35s. Turkeys F-35s are designed to complement the existing fighter force of 240 F-16s including 165 F-16 Block 50+ standard aircraft. This delivery will make Turkey the second F-35 operator in the middle east, the first being Israel having already used them in combat.
The F-35A will offer Turkey a wide range of new capabilities including the ability to penetrate opposing airspace undetected, conduct precision ground attack missions and engage air targets undetected from beyond visual range. In addition to the F-35A Turkey is developing its own stealthy aircraft currently designated the TFX set to fly in 2023.
The delivery of the F-35s will likely prevent Turkey form purchasing Russian SU-57s and other associated Russian defense products. This would support the “Countering Russian Influence Europe and Eurasia” which includes limiting the proliferation of Russian arms throughout Europe. Turkey’s F-35A pilot training is set to begin this year with the first operational aircraft by 2020. F-35As in the Turkish Air Force will likely be reserved for combat operations against potential state opponents that possess advanced air defense systems.