Turkey Plans F-16 Upgrade as Fighter Capacity Stopgap Measure

by Dan Darling, International Military Markets Analyst, Forecast International.

As Turkish military planners and Turkey’s state arms procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), focus on the country’s indigenous new-generation fighter jet (dubbed TF-X), Air Force officials are planning on plugging any potential capabilities gap in combat aircraft that might emerge in the interim. The solution involves an upgrade program for the Turkish Air Force’s 25 F-16 Block 30 fighters, which were acquired from the U.S. between 1988 and 1990 under the Peace Onyx program.

The F-16 fleet represents the primary component of the Turkish Air Force’s fighter wing, forming the backbone of its air power while the service awaits deliveries of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and development of the aforementioned indigenous TF-X. Once absorbed into service, the F-35 will begin replacing the Air Force’s aging fleet of McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantoms and the older F-16s.

The notional TF-X, meanwhile, is still in the design phase. Turkey is hoping that the TF-X will make its maiden flight in 2023, although Turkish Air Force officials remain skeptical that the project is technologically feasible in light of country’s local industrial capabilities. Series production deliveries would not kick off until two years later, in 2025, and then run through 2035.

That timeline presents a long gap in which capabilities shortcomings may emerge due to obsolescence or retirement of existing F-4E and F-16 platforms. As such, Turkey aims to maximize existing inventories in order to retain full air combat strength. Thus, upgrades to both the F-4Es (under the Simsek, or Lightning, program) and the F-16s (under the Peace Onyx III modernization project undertaken by Turkish Aerospace Industries, or TAI, with oversight from Lockheed Martin) have been approved by the SSM.

The upgrade of the F-16 Block 30s will be overseen by the SSM, planned by TAI, and carried out at a Turkish Air Force repair center, likely the 1st Supply and Maintenance Center at Eskisehir Air Base. The bulk of the work will involve structural and body improvements.

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