By: Burak Ege Bekdil
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's procurement and defense authorities have launched a program designed to increase the structural life of the country's existing fleet of F-16 Block 30 jets from 8,000 flight hours to 12,000, the country's top procurement official announced.
Ismail Demir, who leads the Presidency of Defence Industries, wrote in a Feb. 2 tweet that the comprehensive upgrade program would involve revisions, renewals, replacements and body reinforcement. “The upgrades will cover 1,200 to 1,500 parts per aircraft,” Demir said.
Caglar Kurc, a Turkish defense analyst, said the upgrade program indicates Turkey's intention to keep the F-16s as its main aerial firepower until the country completes work on its planned indigenous fighter jet.
“In addition to the F-16s, [armed and unarmed] drones could be used to support, particularly, anti-terror missions,” Kurc said.
Turkey has been seeking options for a new-generation fighter after it was suspended from the American-led, multinational Joint Strike Fighter program that builds the F-35 Lightning II.
Turkish Aerospace Industries will perform the structural upgrades for the F-16s as part of an ongoing upgrade program. TAI is currently building 30 new F-16 Block 50+ aircraft for the Turkish Air Force and is running an upgrade program covering more than 160 F-16 Block 30/40/50 aircraft.
Turkey's indigenous fighter program, dubbed TF-X (or MMU in its Turkish acronym), has been crawling over the past years due to technological failures and issues with know-how transfers. Turkish engineers must first select an engine for the planned aircraft before finalizing the design phase.
TAI has been in talks with British engine-maker Rolls-Royce for engine know-how and co-production, but a final contract has yet to emerge.