Is Turkey looking at the JF-17?

Turkey, a major NATO nation, has been striving to upgrade its arsenal of fighter jets in recent years. The US’s F-16 has been at the top of the list.

Unexpected turn: Pakistani JF-17s replace Iraq's aging F-16 fleet

However, the relationship between Turkey and the United States has seen continuous oscillations, leading to the US’s disagreement with Turkey’s procurement intentions. Consequently, Turkey has found itself in a challenging position, particularly on the subject of NATO expansion.

Consequently, Turkey attempted to seek alliances with Europe, with an aspiration to access Typhoon fighter jets. However, they met with firm resistance from Germany.

F-16s are late, so Turkey is considering acquiring 40 Typhoons
Photo by Chris Lofting

Driven by desperation, reports are that Turkey is considering reaching out for the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet, developed jointly by China and Pakistan. Importantly, this jet is also known by China’s pet name, the Fierce Dragon.

Should Turkey come to a definitive decision to consider this route, the latest model of the FC-1 Fierce Dragon, version 3.0, stands as the most promising option. It’s worth noting that this jet is categorized as a 4++ generation fighter.

Turkey lacks US F-16V fighter jets

USAF new F-16 'dark grey' camouflage scheme goes mainstream
Photo credit: USAF

Insiders in international affairs are keenly aware that Turkey, a key member of NATO, brings a distinct dynamic to the table. Recent years have borne witness to tense relations between Turkey and its NATO counterparts, notably the United States.

The friction intensified when the U.S. ejected Turkey from the global cooperation initiative on the F-35 stealth fighter. This move was a direct retaliation against Turkey’s decision to procure the Russian S-400 anti-missile apparatus.

This particular decision did not sit well with Turkey. Rather than backtracking, it persisted in its acquisition of S-400 missiles and, additionally, fortified its alliance with Russia even further.

F-16s are late, so Turkey is considering acquiring 40 Typhoons
Photo credit: Krasimir Grozev

On the other side of the divide, the U.S., visibly displeased, sought to limit Turkey’s ambitions yet again. This time, they pressured Turkey to curtail its demand for acquiring F-16V fighter jets.

Turkey took measures

In an unexpected move, Turkey has expressed interest in purchasing Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets from Europe. Simultaneously, confusion arises as Turkey blocks Sweden’s potential entry into NATO.

Serbia seeks fighters, it chooses between MiG-35 and JF-17 Block 3
Photo credit: Pakistan Air Force

Despite Turkey’s refusal to endorse Sweden’s membership, Finland, who also applied for NATO’s inclusion, secured its place over eight months ago. Meanwhile, Sweden’s prospective membership hangs in the balance.

However, this decision has further strained the relationship between Turkey and several prominent NATO countries. This is reflected in the pending approval of Turkey’s purchase of US F-16V, which remains unapproved to date.

Around the same time, as Turkey contemplated acquiring Europe’s Typhoon fighter jets, Germany steadfastly sought reasons to affirm its stance.

Typhoons are Turkey’s next-best option

Reports indicate that Turkey has plans to purchase 40 Typhoon fighter jets, however, the decision faces opposition from Germany. Many speculate that this opposition is somehow influenced by the United States.

For a clearer understanding, The Typhoon combat aircraft building project is a joint effort involving four nations – The United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Spain. When it comes to sales to overseas customers, consensus is required from each of these countries.

Unexpected turn: Pakistani JF-17s replace Iraq's aging F-16 fleet
Photo by Stephan De Bruijn

So, what happens when the pathway is blocked?

Foreign media outlets suggest that an optimal choice for Turkey might be to acquire the Russian Su-35 fighter jets. Nevertheless, such a move could have significant repercussions, stoking the ongoing tension in the Turkey-US [NATO] relationship.

Moreover, the integration of the Russian jets with Turkey’s existing military hardware, predominantly from the US, presents technical challenges and, therefore, a steep price tag due to the technological limitations of the Russian-made jets.

No F-35, F-16, or Typhoon, so Turkey is looking at the JF-17
Photo credit: Sohu

A stark contrast to the issues with Russian technology is seen in the latest version of the JF-17 Thunder, co-developed by China and Pakistan. Not only is this aircraft competitively priced, but it also shows exceptional technical compatibility with Western electronic equipment.

Moreover, when outfitted with active electronically scanned array [AESA] radars and PL-10 air-to-air missiles, the JF-17 Thunder delivers a combat performance on par with Western 4++ generation fighters.

Turkey met Fierce Dragon

If Turkey is successful in acquiring 40 FC-1 Fierce Dragon version 3.0, it wouldn’t just be the first instance of a Chinese-designed fighter making its way into a significant NATO country. It would also represent a substantial and high-value transaction.

Nigeria will fight Boko Haram with Pakistani JF-17 fighters
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Several analysts have drawn attention to a common recollection among many Chinese about the HQ-9 missile incident that occurred around a decade ago. At that time, Turkey utilized the acquisition of the HQ-9 as a lever of negotiation, playing the ‘China card’ to procure a Patriot missile from the United States.

Of late, certain media reports suggest that Turkey may resort to its earlier strategy, using the FC-1 Fierce Dragon version 3.0 as a means to compel the United States and Europe into opening the doors to fighter jet weapons sales.

True as it is, the FC-1 Fierce Dragon version 3.0 doesn’t measure up to the J-10CE, not to mention the F-16V fighter and the Typhoon fighter. Hence, the possibility of handing these over to Turkey could easily turn out to be another pitfall.

USAF new F-16 'dark grey' camouflage scheme goes mainstream
Photo credit: USAF

Turkey is deceiving

Industry experts generally concur that Turkey’s primary motivation behind its announcement of potential interest in purchasing Chinese fighter jets was likely to exert pressure on the United States, to force concessions.

Presuming Turkey maintains its engagement with NATO following a period of diplomatic wrangling, the consensus is that the nation will ultimately greenlight Sweden’s inclusion in NATO, and the United States will proceed to vend F-16V fighter jets to Turkey.

Source: https://bulgarianmilitary.com/2023/12/18/no-f-35-f-16-or-typhoon-so-turkey-is-looking-at-the-jf-17/

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