SALON DU BOURGET, PARIS -- Amid discord between the U.S. and Turkey over Turkey's recently announced removal from F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, Turkish Aerospace Industries on Monday unveiled its own next-generation fighter concept, saying the aircraft could be operational in roughly ten years' time.
Turkish officials here at the Paris-Le Bourget Airport said its fighter concept is a result of an emphasis on research and development and investment in technology in concert with its defense industry. Officials said TF-X is also made possible due to a partnership with U.K.-based BAE Systems for the program.
But they added that their participation in the F-35 program up until now has helped pave the way.
"For F-35, my company [is] building [parts] of the center fuselage, so this means in terms of manufacturing, Turkish Aerospace has enough strength to build this fighter," said Temel Kotil, president and CEO of Turkish Aerospace Industries.
"We made a promise to our nation to make the best fighter in Europe," Kotil said before the mockup concept fighter was unveiled.
A thousand engineers are already working on TF-X, and the first fighter should be manufactured by 2025, with "full service in 2028," Kotil said.
According to a promotional poster near the outdoor exhibit, Turkish Aerospace aims to develop the multirole fifth-gen fighter to be low-observable and have enhanced radar with increased sensor and data transfer. It will also have the ability to fly at near-Mach 2 speed and withstand a 9.0-plus G-force, the poster states.
The twin-engine, canted-vertical-tail fighter looks comparable to the F-35 in design, with a slightly narrower fuselage and a longer wingspan. TF-X is expected to replace the country's F-16 Fighting Falcon fleet.
The Pentagon earlier this month said it has begun taking steps to expel Turkey from the Joint Strike Fighter program as the NATO ally has shown no signs to back down from its intended purchase of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system, known to Moscow as the "F-35 killer."
In a letter sent to Turkish Minister of Defence Hulusi Akar, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on June 7 outlined a list of actions the U.S. would begin taking to suspend Turkey's participation in the F-35 program starting July 31, to include halting training operations with Turkish pilots and instructors at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
According to a report from Foreign Policy, Luke has already stopped the pilots from training on the F-35 because of information-sharing concerns. Turkish maintainers, however, are still training on the fighter at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, because maintainers do not have access to sensitive data, according to a separate report from Defense News.
"We control what is downloaded from our computers; we have shared what's appropriate," Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said June 7. "The Turks have no critical documentation that we are concerned about."
Lockheed Martin Corp. officials on Monday said they continue to stay on schedule until the U.S. government gives the defense company direction.
"Right now the program of record stands," said Greg Ulmer, vice president for Lockheed's F-35 aircraft production business. "Turkey still remains to be a partner on the program; we're still producing the Turkey aircraft, we're still procuring material from Turkey."
Turkish industries produce 937 different parts for the F-35, including items for the landing gear and fuselage.
While Pentagon officials say they are working on a backup plan for alternate suppliers should Turkey be permanently expelled from JSF, Ulmer stressed that Lockheed "always looks for alternate sources of supply" should unforeseen challenges arise.
"That's not a Turkey-unique situation. We're constantly looking at alternate sources of supply for any kinds of risk -- financial...politics, whatever it might be," he said.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.