Confirmation that the UK and Turkey signed a £100 million ($125.5 million) ‘Heads of Agreement’ development deal on Saturday signals the beginnings of what could potentially be the most significant and important international defence capability partnership agreement with a NATO ally that the UK has been involved over the past thirty years.
Signed by BAE Systems and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) in the presence of both Turkish Prime Minister, Benali Yildirim and British Prime Minister Theresa May in Ankara on Saturday, the TF-X ‘Heads of Agreement’ signing confirms that BAE Systems will provide significant assistance in the design and development of the proposed fifth-generation TF-X fighter jet that is planned to be built for the Turkish Air Force in the mid-2020’s.
Importantly, the ‘Heads of Agreement’ development agreement between BAE Systems and TAI opens the way forward to deeper future cooperation that could pave the way for the UK defence industrial base to potentially provide a wide range of other defence related products and equipment, components and key technologies that could include military jet engines, weapons, radars, sensors and other important components to Turkey in the years ahead.
The announcement of the TF-X collaboration ‘Heads of Agreement’ for the initial design and development phase of the Turkish fighter jet project builds upon the pre-contract study phase established between BAE Systems and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) some while ago.
This agreement is a major coup for BAE Systems and it signals, as BAE Systems CEO, Ian King said in Ankara on Saturday “an exciting next step in in relations between Turkey and the UK” I might go one further suggesting that agreement potentially opens the door to placing BAE Systems and the UK back on the map in terms of manned fast jet design and development.
For the UK to be involved in the development and design of a new fighter jet for a country such as Turkey rightly underlines the importance that the UK Government sees in enhancing trade relations with Turkey. The UK has stood alongside Turkey through its recent troubles and rightly so because it understands the value that a Turkey inside NATO plays. Turkey is bordered by no less than eight countries including Iran, Iraq, Syria and Greece and with the Black Sea to the north it is clearly geographically hugely important.
At its peak, the TF-X development phase is anticipated to see hundreds of Turkish and UK engineers working in collaboration and in bringing together the mass of skills, technology and technical expertise required to deliver the programme. That BAE Systems has a long history and heritage of designing, manufacturing and supporting military fighter aircraft and that it is in an excellent position to share technical expertise and that it has long history of managing complex projects with Turkish industry will not have been lost on the Turkish Government and it is worth remembering that BAE Systems also has a long history of successful design partnerships as exampled by Eurofighter-Typhoon, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Panavia Tornado and the Saab Gripen.
As mentioned, the TF-X military aircraft project will provide an excellent opportunity to build and extend trade collaboration between the UK and Turkish governments. My understanding is that it will include technology transfer and development of key technologies with the Turkish aerospace industry and that should potentially lead to significant future involvement for not only BAE Systems but many other UK defence and aerospace companies and suppliers.
Overall design concept of TF-X is still to be confirmed with, as far as I understand, both single and twin engine designs being considered. BAE Systems initial involvement will be design and development and potentially, production phases of the programme.
Turkey is not only a large NATO ally but also a Level 3 partner in the Lockheed Martin F-35 programme. It currently has six F-35A variants of the jet on order and a mandate that was confirmed by Defence Minister Fikri Isik last November, to acquire a further 24 F35 jets. Turkey’s first F-35 jet of a commitment to eventually acquire 116 of the next generation fighter jets from an important Lockheed Martin defence programme in which BAE Systems is a ‘Level One’ partner, are expected to be delivered in 2018.
From an air defence perspective, the Turkish Air Force currently has a variety of fast jet aircraft mainly Lockheed Martin F-16 together with ageing McDonnel Douglas F-4 Phantoms and Northrop Grumman F-5 Freedom Fighters. In terms of personnel numbers, at approximately 60,000, the Turkish Air Force is approximately double that of the UK.
Far from Turkey being a new country for BAE Systems to deal with, a long history of previous investment and engagement exists between BAE Systems and Turkish companies. For instance, FNSS Savunma Sistemleri A.Ş. (FNSS) is a long established joint venture between BAE Systems and Nurol Holding and a leading Turkish exporter of armoured vehicles. BAE Systems has also recently formed an aerospace joint venture with Turkish industrial conglomerate Nurol Holding in order to develop its aerospace capability in-country and to support Turkish Government objectives to develop more indigenous capability.
Prime Minister Theresa May said that the agreement signed in Ankara yesterday “underlines once again that Britain is a great, global trading nation and that we are open for business,”. Mrs. May added that the defence deal announced with Turkey on Saturday “marks the start of a new and deeper trading relationship [with Turkey] that will potentially secure British and Turkish jobs and prosperity for decades to come”.
Turkey is not a member of the European Union of course but it is a member of NATO and, geographically located where it is, a very important one. Although by no means a large market in respect of trade at present, Turkey is already the UK’s second largest single European export market after Germany, accounting for around 7% of total UK exports in 2015.
Announcement of the agreement in Ankara on Saturday followed an earlier meeting between Theresa May and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogen during which he had said that he wanted to boost annual trade with Britain to $20 billion from the current $15.6 billion now and that the TF-X fighter project is an important step in that process.
CHW (London – 30th January 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785