Jun 13 2018

Turkey and UK roll up sleeves to save fighter jet project

Turkish and UK ministers are battling to save a flagship partnership to develop a fifth generation fighter jet following a dispute over the role of a Turkish company involved in the project for its close ties to Qatar and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Financial Times reported.

Rolls-Royce, the British aero-engine group, has been working with Turkish industrial giant Kale to bid for the engine development contract on the TF-X jet, which will become Turkey’s first indigenous combat aircraft.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s desire to build a national defence industry has made this programme a priority, while for the UK, which wants to develop its trading relationship with Turkey, this partnership is key to preserving Britain’s ability to develop military aircraft ‘’given the dearth of UK fighter programmes once production of the Typhoon combat jet comes to an end in the mid 2020s,’’ the Financial Times said.

Recalling that during a visit to Turkey in January 2017,  British Prime Minister Theresa May said the fighter jet partnership marked “the start of a new and deeper trading relationship with Turkey and will potentially secure British and Turkish jobs and prosperity for decades to come,” the article  noted that project has run into problems after Turkish defence officials demanded that Rolls-Royce share sensitive technology with TR Motor, a company that is 55 per cent controlled by a subsidiary of BMC, a defence manufacturer whose major shareholders include the Qatari ministry of defence, and a businessman known for his links the Turkish president.’’

‘’The fact this issue was discussed between the two ministers tells you how seriously this is being taken,’’ it said.

While Rolls-Royce executives and British ministers have told Turkey that they cannot accept an arrangement that would see TR Motor own and manage the intellectual property of the programme there are plans for calls between Turkish and UK ministers to discuss the issue.

‘’This could call into question the role of BAE Systems, which last year signed a £100m contract with Turkish Aerospace Industries to help design the jet,’’ the article noted while pointing out that about 200 BAE engineers are working with TAI in the UK and Turkey.

The UK has focused on improving relations with Turkey over the past two years and doubled its export finance programme to Turkey to £3.5bn last year.