TAI TF-X: Turkey is Building Stealth Fighter – But Will It Ever Fly?

TF-X Stealth Fighter from Turkey
December 14, 2023 Topic: military Region: Middle East Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: TAI TF-XTF-XTurkeyStealth FighterF-35

TAI TF-X: Turkey is Building Stealth Fighter – But Will It Ever Fly?

Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) has said the TF-X will fly on Dec. 27, 2023, but with that just weeks away, it is uncertain if the maiden flight will take place.


TAX TF-X Stealth Fighter - Will It Ever Fly?: There was a time when the sentence "Turkey is building an advanced combat system" was something you didn't want to read or hear while drinking anything – or the result would be the comedic "spit take." However, the times have changed, and the NATO alliance member has developed a robust military-industrial base.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's (SIPRI) recently released report "Top 100 Arms-producing and Military Services Companies, 2022," even as many leading Western arms manufacturers saw their combined revenues shrink, the revenue of four Turkish-based firms went up by 22 percent, which made them the main driver of sales growth in the Middle East region and represented the largest annual percentage revenue increase by any region last year.


Moreover, as the Atlantic Council reported last year, Turkey has transformed from an arms importer while expanding its exports – notably of unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

"Overall, Turkish industries can now design, produce, modernize, and export—at varying levels of domestic contribution—some core conventional arms and equipment such as corvettes, fire support systems, unmanned aircraft systems, gliding munitions for drones, joint-direct attack munitions, across-the-spectrum land warfare platforms (except for main battle tanks), grenade launchers, and tactical anti-material rifles," the Atlantic Council noted. "On the other hand, the defense sector demands international cooperation, marking the limits of independence, at least at the time being, on strategic weapons and high-end arms, such as exo-atmospheric ballistic missile defense, fifth-generation tactical military aviation, air-independent propulsion submarines, and space-based assets."

No F-35 – Ankara Will Build Its Own (or Not)

Turkey had been a key partner in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program before being expelled for its decision to adopt the Russian-made S-400 Triumf and move ahead with its domestically-built TAI TF-X fighter instead.

As of August 2020, a factory to manufacture the fifth generation had been constructed and was reported to be used to produce the aircraft. The new facility reportedly consists of some nine blocks that comprise around 63,000 square meters, while a working area just for the engineering team takes up about 25,000 square meters or just over a third of the total space. The facility features the latest manufacturing techniques, including the ability to employ 3D printing using titanium alloys.

First Flight – Coming When?

Ankara had previously claimed the fighter could be ready to take its first flight by late summer 2023. At issue has been the cost – notably as Turkey faces high inflation, and its external debt reached nearly $476 billion in March.

As Defense News reported in August of this year, the TF-X prototype sits in a hangar ahead of its maiden flight and fiscal problems could stand in the way of its success, while Turkey seeks potential partners – with such nations as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan showing some interest.

But without a partner, the program could be grounded. As has been noted many times, developing a stealth fighter is so expensive that only a small handful of nations have the capability to do so without spending themselves into a crisis.

"Inevitably, the TF-X program will face financial difficulties in line with the country's economic situation," Ozgur Eksi, a defense analyst in Ankara, told Defense News.

TAI TF-X: What We Know About the Fighter

The stealth, twin-engine, all-weather air superiority fighter is intended to replace the country's aging fleets of F-16 Fighting Falcons. The TF-X was developed by TAI in collaboration with BEA Systems, and in addition to domestic service with the Turkish Air Force, it was to be marketed for export.

A pre-production prototype of the Turkish aircraft, which resembled the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, was presented at the 2019 Paris Air Show. At the time TAI claimed it could reach a top speed of Mach 2, have a 600-mile effective combat radius, and could have hardware specifications similar to the F-35 – but without the F-35's advanced avionics.


As previously reported, the aircraft's manufacturer plans to use F110 turbofan engines to power the platform, as they are assembled under license already in the country. However, Ankara has also indicated that the long-term plan is to replace these engines with homegrown alternatives. 

Before 2019, British engineer Rolls-Royce agreed to work alongside the Turkish defense company Kale Group to create the TF-X’s new engine. The deal ultimately fell through, however.

According to state-run media sources, the TF-X fighter will be equipped with cutting-edge radar, networked drone control, ground attack capabilities, and advanced internal weapons. Similar to the F-35 Lightening II, the TF-X is being built for air-to-air mission sets. Other reports suggest that the new fighter will host voice recognition and multiple displays, in addition to high-quality audio systems and graphic interfaces.

Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) has said the TF-X will fly on Dec. 27, 2023, but with that just weeks away, it is uncertain if the maiden flight will take place.

Author Experience and Expertise

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

The image is an artist's image of a potential TF-X fighter. Image Credit: TAI handout.