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PARIS: Engine decision approaches for TF-X fighter

Ankara is close to defining the engine plans for its TF-X future fighter, as Turkish Aerospace Industries and BAE Systems cement their partnership on the project.

In February Turkey picked BAE as its partner for the TF-X activity, which seeks to develop an advanced fighter to replace its air force's Lockheed Martin F-16 fleet from about the end of the next decade. A heads of agreement signed by the UK and Turkish governments committed the parties to a four-year design phase, with the eventual goal of delivering an operational aircraft from 2029-2030.

"There will be a mixed engineering team for every part of the aircraft," says Mustafa Cavcar, TAI's executive vice-president for TF-X. The project is making a "real start" this month, he adds, with the rest of this year to be spent making preparations for BAE engineers to work with their TAI counterparts in Ankara.

A design freeze is likely in late 2018 or 2019, he says, following decisions on key equipment such as the fighter's engines.

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Turkish Aerospace Industries

Cavcar says Turkey's SSM defence procurement agency is poised to announce its planned propulsion strategy for the twin-engined type. A competition has attracted interest from the Eurojet consortium, which produces the Eurofighter Typhoon's EJ200, as well as GE Aviation and Rolls-Royce. A new afterburning engine with a maximum rating of more than 25,000lb-thrust (111kN) is likely to be required.

"The target is to decide on an engine supplier before the end of this year," he says.

It is not known how many production aircraft will be built for the Turkish air force, which Flight Fleets Analyzer records as operating 245 F-16C/Ds. Cavcar notes that the new fighter's capabilities will exceed those of its current inventory, so a one-for-replacement is unlikely. An international market is also already in TAI's sights.

"We will have an export market for this aircraft," he says, pointing to other current F-16 operators – including in Europe – as potential future sales targets. "After the second or third year [of the design phase] customers will be seeing more details."

While the programme is in its early days, Cavcar says the partners have gained strong financial and political support from Turkey and the UK. "We are feeling the very strong support of both governments behind us," he adds, noting that he would also like to see the type in UK service.

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