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New door is opening for Turkiye to return to the F-35 program

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ANKARA, TURKIYE — Turkiye’s expulsion from the US Joint Strike Fighter program in 2020 was one of Ankara’s biggest defense and security disappointments in the past decade. This harms both parties.

New door is opening for Turkiye to return to the F-35 program
Video screenshot

Lockheed Martin lost a low-cost, high-quality supplier of parts for the F-35, and a new operator of the fighter jet that would pay for years to maintain. Ankara lost more – contracts with Lockheed Martin, fifth-generation fighter jets, deteriorated relations with Washington. But throughout this period [2019-2023], Turkey has made it clear that despite the losses, it will not become dependent on foreign weapons technology.

Washington’s decision led to a domino effect. Germany, France, and Great Britain gradually began to withdraw from some joint Turkish projects. Various areas were affected – missile production, engines, design, and import of components and parts. And just like a domino effect, Ankara began to find a way back for all the gaps – increased engineering and production at the local level, produced equivalent weapons systems to foreign ones and found new suppliers and partners in Asia.

Patriot, S-400, and Hisar SAM systems

Patriot destroyed missile using target designation provided by F-35
Photo by US Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Debbie Lockhart

When Turkiye needed air defense to guarantee national security, the Hisar SAM system was already in the process of development, design, and testing. Ankara turned to Washington asking for a bid for the American Patriot air defense system. The US had no reason not to send one, but the price did not sit well with the Turkish administration.

The possibility of the Russian S-400 air defense system as a second option has emerged. As it happened. Moscow provided excellent conditions, which it subsequently fulfilled after Ankara ordered, paid for, and acquired the S-400. This infuriated Washington as they saw a threat to their secret new technology used in the F-35.

However, Ankara did not stop developing the Hisar family of anti-aircraft missile systems. Thus, at the end of 2022, Turkiye made a successful test of the last member of the Hisar family – SIPER. The missile intercepted a target at a distance of 100 km. This is what opens a new door and opportunity for Turkey to return to the F-35 program.

India strengthens its air defense with delivery of new S-400
Video screenshot

Siper vs S-400

Siper is the Turkish version of a long-range anti-aircraft missile system. Its range is 150 km according to the generally available information. A successful test in late 2022 means there will be at least two more tests by mid-2023. If they pass successfully as the first, serial production of the Sipper will begin in late 2023, which is Turkiye’s plan.

New door is opening for Turkiye to return to the F-35 program
Photo credit: YouTube

The Turkish company Aselsan has advanced enormously in the development of radar systems. Currently, every Turkish org system requiring radar scanning uses an Aselsan product. Turkiye is even upgrading Western weapons systems in its inventory with Aselsan radars, including F-16 fighter jets. I.e. we can assume, without knowing for sure, that Siper has a better radar than the Russian one integrated into the S-400.

A new door to the F-35 program

Siper SAM is an opportunity for Ankara to be invited back into the F-35 program. Without the need for the Russian S-400, Siper can guarantee the protection of critical infrastructure sites and areas, which Ankara wanted from the beginning.

F-35 Lightning II fighter jet
Photo by Lance cpl. Jose S.Guerrero Deleon

If Sieper replaces the S-400 operationally, Washington could open a new door for Ankara. Dr. Thomas Whittington, a RUSI fellow, and expert in electronic warfare and air defense echoes this view. “Using the Siper instead of the S-400 domestically could be a way to get back into Washington’s good books and perhaps reactivate the F-35 acquisition,” he added.

TF-X vs. F-35

Does Turkiye want to return to the F-35 program? Western analysts say Turkiye wants to come back. But do they look only through the prism of their position, without putting themselves in the position of the Turkish side? Taken out of context three years ago, Turkish President Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said two very significant lines. “Turkiye is a big territory and we have to protect it <…> If we buy the F-35 and at some point, the Americans don’t like us, they can turn our F-35 into a third-generation fighter. So what are we buying now?”.

New door is opening for Turkiye to return to the F-35 program
Photo credit: EurAsia Times

Siper opens a door that won’t be liked

Siper is a new product with a well-established new product because it opens a new door. There are expensive American and European air defense systems, there are Israeli air defense systems that are sold based on politics, not needs, there are Russian air defense systems that will cause sanctions as well as concerns about their quality, there are Chinese systems that, for similar reasons, are not preferred.

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