Turkey has requested permission from the USA to domestically produce the jet engine that powers the country’s Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters and a fifth-generation fighter prototype.
Ankara is reportedly seeking approval from Washington and US manufacturer GE Aerospace to assemble GE’s F110 fighter engine in Turkey. The development was first reported on 28 December by Bloomberg, citing anonymous sources.
Neither Washington nor Ankara has confirmed the reporting.
The F110 powers the single-engined F-16, of which Turkey operates 243 examples, according to Cirium data.
A prototype version of Turkey’s National Combat Aircraft, commonly known as the TF-X, is also powered by the F110. Being developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries, Ankara’s goal for the twin-engined, low-observable Kaan fighter is to maximise domestic parts sourcing.
When the Kaan prototype was revealed in May 2023, Ankara said the jet was 80% domestically sourced. Standing up F110 engine production within Turkey may be intended to further this goal.
Turkish manufacturer Tusas Engine Industries (TEI) previously assembled the F110s destined for Turkey’s F-16 fleet under license from GE Aerospace. The firm is also a licensed MRO provider for operators of some GE engines in western Asia.
The two manufacturers extended their MRO agreement in June, allowing TEI to continue offering depot level maintenance support for F110 engines.
Turkey and the USA have a tumultuous history when it comes to fighter aircraft sales – and any approval of the F110 request will likely be tied to larger geopolitical goals.
Elected members of Congress, who must ascent to overseas sales of high-dollar value or technologically sensitive military equipment, have long-opposed a 2021 request from Ankara to purchase 40 of the latest F-16Vs from Lockheed.
While President Joe Biden had previously expressed support for the sale, lawmakers have made it clear they will not approve the deal until NATO member Turkey reverses course on one of their policy priorities.
Resistance to the sale stems from Ankara’s opposition to Nordic countries Sweden and Finland joining the NATO military alliance – which requires unanimous approval by all existing member states.
Turkey gave its ascent to Finland’s accession in April – which was quickly followed by Washington approving a $259 million avionics upgrade package for Turkey’s existing F-16s.
At a NATO summit in July, the USA made it clear the deal for 40 new Viper fighters will be approved, if Sweden is allowed to join NATO.
Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has subsequently agreed in principle to Sweden’s accession, lawmakers in Ankara have yet to give formal approval – leaving the F-16 deal in limbo.
This is not the first time a geopolitical spat has disrupted a fighter sale between the USA and Turkey.
Turkey had been seeking to acquire 100 conventional variant F-35As for its air force and an unspecified number of short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs for the navy.
Ankara has since shifted its naval aviation focus to an aircraft carrier centred around unmanned air vehicles.
American and Turkish officials have met on at least three occasions to discuss Turkey’s re-entry into the F-35 programme, but the talks have thus far yielded no results.