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HomeExpertsThe Decline of the Turkish Air Force: A Strategic Loss

The Decline of the Turkish Air Force: A Strategic Loss

The situation resembles Nasreddin Hodja’s statement, “I was going to get off anyway,” but the current state of affairs is not a matter to taken lightly. Turkey has not only suffered billions of dollars in losses but has also lost crucial strategic positions.

What’s even more unfortunate is that the losses of billions of dollars, similar to football players losing money in the “Fatih Terim Fund,” have not been discussed as much. When we delve into the details, you’ll better understand the scandal—or, in my view, the betrayal—that has taken place.

First and foremost, let me state that President Erdogan has found the ideal Defense Minister he was looking for. Yaşar Güler is demonstrating the kind of military performance that aligns with the dreams of every political Islamist.

The reason for writing this article is an announcement made by Güler in the Turkish Grand National Assembly’s Planning and Budget Committee. Defending his ministry’s budget, Güler stated, “Personally, I am definitely not in favor of buying F-35 fighter jets.”

In reality, Turkey has not been sold F-35 aircraft, but Güler’s arguments are quite interesting and, more importantly, thought-provoking. Minister Güler speaks more like a ‘pool media’ columnist than a former Chief of General Staff.

In summary, Güler’s arguments are as follows:

“F-35 fighter jets are very problematic. There is a major crisis in the U.S. and Israel; the U.S. has withdrawn many of them from flight, Israel criticizes the U.S. heavily, and many European countries have also withdrawn the aircraft due to technical issues.”


According to Minister Güler, Americans are debating whether to switch to a new aircraft instead of the F-35. At this point, he brings up the domestically produced KAAN and says, “We will fly it in fifteen to twenty days.” He continues, “Let’s use KAAN instead of F-35.”

According to the records of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Minister Güler holds the view of “Definitely not buying F-35.”

I will continue on this topic, but at this point, let me remind you: Yaşar Güler, one of the architects of the July 15 coup attempt, has not gone to the Turkish Grand National Assembly, prosecutors, or courts. Just like Hulusi Akar, Hakan Fidan, and Zekai Aksakallı, he was specifically kept away from the judiciary.

If a real prosecutor, journalist, or comrades confronted him, the July 15 conspiracy would easily be exposed. His current position as the Minister of National Defense is undoubtedly due to his outstanding success(!) on July 15.

Returning to the issue of fighter jets: Yaşar Güler’s statements are a complete scandal. Firstly, what he said is not true. He probably believes what he reads in the ‘pool media’ or from AKTrolls.

The KAAN that Minister Güler claimed “we will fly in fifteen to twenty days” only exists as a model for now. According to experts, even in the most optimistic scenarios, KAAN joining the Turkish Air Force will not happen before the mid-2030s.

Let’s get back to the Defense Minister’s ‘quick adaptation to politics’ and continue.

The Cost of the S-400 Obsession

The reason Turkey is desperately searching for aircraft today is the S-400 air defense system purchased from Russia. Due to the strong opposition from the U.S. and NATO, Turkey, which was a producing partner in the F-35 fighter jet project, was removed from the project.

The reality that Minister Güler did not mention is this: Two S-400 system batteries with a total of 144 missiles, purchased from Putin as the price for July 15, are stationed in Ankara to protect Erdogan’s Palace.

To activate the S-400s to cover all of Turkey, around $100 billion is needed. Therefore, what the AKP base parades around with PVC plastic pipes labeled ‘S-400’ on their cars doesn’t know is that even if the S-400s were used, they wouldn’t benefit Turkey’s defense.

The Turkish Air Force is essentially based on two aircraft models: the F-4 and the F-16.


Both of these aircraft are outdated but have been brought to the present through modernization. The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) entered the F-35 project in 2007 to replace the F-4. Turkey was a producing partner. In 2018, Turkey made a payment to the U.S. for four F-35 aircraft. Turkish pilots went to the U.S. for training.

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However, due to Erdogan’s insistence on the S-400, Turkey was excluded from the F-35.

Two more aircraft were supposed to be given to Turkey. In other words, initially, we would have had six F-35s. However, the U.S. sent Turkish pilots back and parked the aircraft in hangars.

Let’s do a simple calculation.

Let’s see what Turkey lost: $2.5 billion for S-400s that would never be used, $1.25 billion for F-35s. When Turkey was removed from the F-35, an additional $750,000 was paid to lobbying firms. Today, those who say “let’s not buy it” had to wait at the doors of lobbying firms to return to the project they had abandoned.

Even if we don’t consider indirectly spent money, there is a loss of $4.5 billion in the first stage alone.

One of the strategically uncalculated losses is the market slipping from the hands of Turkish industry. Turkey was producing 1,005 different parts for the F-35. Unfortunately, when Turkey was excluded from the project, a potential annual profit of $700 million for Turkish industry evaporated.

Let’s not forget that opposition MPs couldn’t even present such a simple calculation to Güler.

Now, how realistic is Erdogan’s Eurofighter quest?

First of all, the statement “If that doesn’t work, we’ll buy Eurofighter” is nothing more than a bluff against the U.S. Washington is aware of this.

Now, let’s get into technical details. The F-35 aircraft is a fifth-generation aircraft whose system development phase lasted until 2013. The Eurofighter, on the other hand, is a fourth-generation aircraft with a history dating back to the 1990s.

The F-35’s performance in not being detected by radar is excellent because it has internal weapons-carrying capability. However, the Eurofighter, despite using visibility-reducing paint, does not have low-visibility capabilities because it carries external loads.

Technologically, the F-35 is far superior.

The service life of the F-35 is 8,000 hours, with a unit cost of $72 million. The Eurofighter has a service life of 6,000 hours and a unit cost of $151 million. In other words, the F-35 has an additional 5 years and 2,000 hours of service life.

Buying the aircraft is not the end of the story!

Paying for the aircraft does not solve the problem. Because, even if the U.S. lifted the embargo, allowed the purchase of F-35s, and lifted the blockage on the F-16, the problem wouldn’t be solved. Regaining the human resources capable of effectively using the systems is not that easy.

Unmeasurable strategic losses

Opposition MPs did not ask Minister Güler, but the Erdogan government has incalculable strategic losses due to practices that border on betrayal.

Because having powerful defense systems, modern aircraft, and well-trained pilots is not enough. It is also crucial who your allies are and your ability to carry out joint operations with your allies.

Both integrated weapon systems and joint training are essential to act together. Unfortunately, due to the wrong policies of the Erdogan regime, Turkey has suffered significant losses in NATO.

Today, Turkey’s NATO membership is even being debated.

To the point where relations with Germany, where we excel, have reached a breaking point. Due to the mistake of associating Sweden’s NATO membership with the purchase of F-16s, Turkey lost another card against Sweden.

The Erdogan regime blustered so much, but in the face of Sweden’s membership, it has nothing in its hand.

In short, while the situation is so clear and simple, the regime is trying to salvage the situation with patriotic speeches.

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Adem Yavuz Arslan
Adem Yavuz Arslan
Adem Yavuz Aslan is a leading Turkish investigative journalist in exile based in Washington, D.C.

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