Turkey's top panel for overseeing major defense procurement decisions will convene "sooner rather than later" to discuss the country's ambitious program for the design, development and production of an indigenous fighter jet, sources have said, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
The Defense Industry Executive Committee, chaired by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will discuss the fighter program at its first meeting, according to defense sources.
Although there is not yet any scheduled meeting, officials say a gathering "looks likely in the first quarter of the year" - or, in other words, before the March 30 local elections. Other members of the committee are Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Ozel and Undersecretary for Defense Industries Murad Bayar.
"We expect the prime minister to give the necessary go-ahead for the development phase of the program," a senior defense procurement official said.
"We submitted our report on the three designs without delays. We hope that the government will give the go-ahead for [the next stage of] the program. We aim to sign a development contract this year," said Ozcan Ertem, head of Turkish aerospace specialist TAI's aircraft group, in remarks carried by the semi-official Anadolu Agency.
Early in January, procurement, Air Force and industry officials convened to discuss a roadmap for the fighter program, dubbed the TF-X. Industry officials said the meeting aimed to iron out differences between procurement authorities and the Air Force over what, precisely, the role of TAI should be.
"It will be the prime minister's decision, based on various deliberations covering all aspects of this ambitious program," the procurement official said. "I think there is every reason to believe the prime minister will approve the development phase of this program - one of his signature projects."
For the TF-X, Turkey has been receiving "mentoring" from Sweden's Saab, maker of the JAS 39 Gripen. The Turkish program involves the design, development and production of a "national" fighter jet, and Saab has been under contract for "pre-conceptual design work." Last year, Turkey agreed to buy design tools from the company.
Turkey aims at a maiden flight for its own fighter aircraft in 2023, the centennial of the country's foundation. Officials are hoping that production will commence in 2021, and deliveries to the Air Force are planned for between 2025 and 2035. The aircraft is expected to remain in service until 2060.
In its present phase, the TF-X exists in three distinct conceptual forms. The foremost favored by the Air Force is a single-engine airframe with blended wing-to-fuselage lines, a forward set single-seat cockpit and conventional main- and tail-wing appendages. The second concept largely borrows the same design, though it features a larger fuselage to harbor the two turbofan engines.