ANKARA, TURKEY — Turkey has begun to write a new chapter in its modern military history. Turkey’s original military stealth aircraft, the National Combat Aircraft [MMU in Turkish] TAI TF-X, has begun taxiing tests. The TF-X, which took to the track with its own engines reported BulgarianMilitary .com website.

The Turkish state-run Defence Industry Agency or Savunma Sanayii Başkanlığı (SSB) chief, Ismail Demir tweeted that, “We said that we would take our National Combat Aircraft out of the hangar on March 18. Our plane is on the runway today!”

The TF-X project was started in 2010 and is run by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). The company claims that the jet is a fifth generation fighter with advanced features like stealth, AESA radar, infrared search and track (IRST) system, etc.

The completion of taxi trials is a major milestone of the program. TAI plans to complete the development process and induct the jet into the Turkish Forces by 2030.

According to various military experts, these timelines are very ambitious considering the fact that Turkey has never flown a manned fighter jet, let alone a fifth generation jet, which even the Russians and Chinese have trouble mastering.

Until now, TAI has only unveiled a prototype of Hürjet, a supersonic fighter-trainer whose taxi trials were completed a day after (18 March) the TF-X did its first set of taxi trials (17 March).

Some observers on Indian Twitter however have started to compare India’s fifth generation fighter jet Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) which was also started around the same timeframe (2009) as TF-X.

The observers complain about the slow speed of development of the AMCA programme for which, they claim, that even after more than a decade, the funding has not been released.

It is worth noting, however, that Turkey has benefitted heavily from the access to western technology over the last several decades, which was not necessarily available to India.

Turkey, part of the F-16 supply chain, has manufactured up to 75 per cent of its own F-16 order, allowing it to build an impressive aerospace industrial base.

It was an industrial partner for F-35 stealth fighter program as well, where it was supposed to manufacture about 900 components of the F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter, before it was kicked out of the program for buying Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defence system.

Their involvement in these programmes has helped Turkey receive advanced technologies and manufacturing experience, and helped in the developement of an industrial base, which sped things up for Ankara.

On the sidelines of Aero India 2023, the DRDO chief has claimed that the AMCA Phase-1 with the American GE F414 engines will take its first flight only after seven years and might take a further three years for induction, extending the timeline to 2032-2033.

In Aero India 2023, however, various critical sub-components of the AMCA were displayed, like its internal weapon bays, conformal antennas for communications, and radars as well as actuators and other mechanical components.

These components are an indication that the programme is in full swing.

India is also following a different philosophy than Turkey, by indigenising as many components and sub-systems as possible, in pursuit of reducing dependence on foreign countries.

While Turkey, on the other hand, isn't indigenising every component. They are sourcing sub-systems and components from US and European markets.

This strategy helps them to speed up the development timelines, as well.

Many analysts fear that just like the successful Turkish Bayraktar TB2 Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) Program, the Turkish manned fighter jet programme might also outrun India’s fighter jet programme, even though India had a head start of more than 20 years.

India’s first supersonic fighter jet, TEJAS, had its first flight in 2001 but the first large-scale production order of 83 jets was only given in early 2021, with the first delivery in 2024.

Earlier, the Indian Air Force had only given a limited-scale production order of only 40 Tejas Mk-1 jets.

The Turkish aviation industry, in the span of three years, has come up with prototypes of three different stealth programmes with another flying wing stealth drone programme, called ANKA-3, which broke cover yesterday (19 March), while the DRDO and HAL programmes do not even get funds and are almost always delayed by five to ten years, says observers.

Just four months ago (December 2022) another Turkish jet-powered drone, the Kizilelma, took its first flight as well.

The observers also lament about the slow pace of the indigenous High Thrust Jet Engine programme which India will develop with foreign engine makers for which French Safran, British Rolls-Royce (RR), and American General Electric (GE) are in the fray.

Turkey is working on developing its own jet engine as well. The Turkish had earlier tried to tie up with British Engine-maker Rolls Royce but the program fell through after Rolls Royce backtracked on sharing intellectual property with Turkey.

While Turkey's aviation industry has made impressive strides in the development of fighter jets and drones, their lack of prior experience in the field could pose challenges to the success of their ambitious projects.

No country in the world has got it right the very first time. It takes decades of research and efforts to make a successful fighter jet program.

Nevertheless, Turkish successes in the drone and fighter programs are a wake up call for India — especially to the decision makers in the armed forces who have, at least in the past, not been keen on indigenous programs, but instead relied on foreign suppliers.