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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Turkey’s Air Power Struggle

Turkey stands at a crucial juncture as it grapples with a pressing air power crisis. The aging fleet of F-16 and F-4 jets, coupled with strained relations with NATO due to the controversial acquisition of Russia’s S-400 defense system, has prompted President Erdogan to embark on a mission to modernize the Turkish Air Force but the road is not really smooth. 

Diplomatic Challenges 

Turkey fighter Jet deal

President Erdogan’s recent diplomatic endeavors, particularly his visit to Germany, were intended to address a myriad of geopolitical issues. Central to these discussions were defense deals, crucial for Turkey’s aspirations to upgrade its air capabilities. However, Germany’s reluctance to sell its Eurofighter Typhoon to Turkey is deeply rooted in a complex web of diplomatic tensions. Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 defense system from Russia, military actions against Kurdish rebels, and delays in NATO ratification have strained relations, making Germany hesitant to engage in defense collaborations.


The Eurofighter Typhoon Dilemma

Turkey fighter Jet deal

Erdogan’s expressed interest in procuring 40 Eurofighter Typhoons to bolster Turkey’s air power is met with a significant obstacle – Germany’s reluctance to sell its premier fighter jet. During Erdogan’s visit, Chancellor Schultz stood firm in denying the sale, citing fundamental disagreements on key geopolitical issues. This impasse leaves Erdogan with limited options as he seeks to modernize the aging Turkish Air Force.


Remaining Options

Turkey fighter Jet deal

As Germany remains hesitant, Erdogan is left with a narrow set of alternatives, each carrying its own set of challenges. The prospect of purchasing Russian fighter jets, particularly the Su-35, looms, but such a move would undoubtedly incur further sanctions from Western nations. Considering Chinese alternatives, such as the J-10 or the China-Pakistan joint fighter jet JF-17 Block 3, presents another delicate diplomatic tightrope for Turkey to walk. The rule within the Eurofighter program, requiring unanimous agreement from all four participating nations, adds complexity to any potential deal with the UK, Italy, and Spain.

Turkey fighter Jet deal

The Domestic Industry Bet 

Turkey fighterJet deal

Amid these challenges, Erdogan is placing a strategic bet on developing Turkey’s domestic military industry. Combat-tested drones like the Bayraktar TB2 and Akinci showcase Turkey’s progress in unmanned aerial systems. The unveiling of the nation’s first homemade stealth fighter jet, aptly named “Khan,” is a testament to Erdogan’s vision for self-reliance in defense capabilities. While combat drones have proven effective, the success of a stealth fighter remains in the testing phase, introducing an element of uncertainty to Turkey’s air power strategy.


Implications for Turkey’s Air Power

Turkey fighter Jet deal

Turkey’s air power strategy is not just a matter of military hardware but a crucial determinant of its geopolitical standing. As Greece invests in advanced Rafale jets from France, Erdogan faces the risk of losing a strategic advantage in the region. Failure to secure new fighter jets could result in a substantial deterioration of Turkey’s air capabilities, impacting its ability to navigate complex regional dynamics.



The trajectory of Turkey’s air power development hangs in the balance, with diplomatic complexities, strategic alternatives, and domestic industry ambitions converging. Erdogan’s decisions in the coming months will shape not only the capabilities of the Turkish Air Force but also Turkey’s standing in the evolving landscape of regional military prowess. The delicate dance between international collaboration and domestic innovation will be a defining factor in Turkey’s quest for air power.

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