WASHINGTON, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- Turkey has expressed interest in Lockheed Martin's three F-35 fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter variants.
Ankara is close to a decision on ordering a second pair of the stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II aircraft following production of the first two F-35s for the Turkish air force, a senior Turkish procurement official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The shipment date the first two F-35s is tentatively 2015, Hurriyet newspaper reported Friday.
U.S. company Lockheed Martin has established an international consortium that besides Turkish companies, includes defense contractors from United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Norway and Denmark. As for future F-35 future markets, Japan and Israel have expressed interest in acquiring F-35s.
To be able to start the delivery of the F-35 fighters in 2015, in January Turkey's Defense Industry Executive Committee had to specify a number it would buy in its initial purchase. Despite Lockheed Martin's expectation that Turkey would order an initial six aircraft, the country initially ordered two aircraft.
Turkey's Defense Industry Executive Committee members include Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, Turkey's Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Ozel and Turkey's military procurement chief Murad Bayar.
Analysts project that Turkey will eventually buy around 100 F-35s, although the final purchase order may ultimately rise to 120 aircraft. Turkish Aerospace Industries and several other Turkish defense companies have grabbed subcontractor agreements to produce more than $5 billion worth of F-35 components.
Earlier this year Ankara began re-examining its interest to purchase 100 F-35 fighter jets for $16 billion. Eight months ago Yilmaz cited government concerns about the F-35's delays and rising costs.
Turkey's decision to move slowly on its F-35 purchase isn't just driven by the project's problems. An additional concern for Ankara is U.S. uneasiness in sharing hardware and software technology with Turkey.
It isn't a new problem but dates to the 1980s when Turkey purchased its first F-16s and requested software source codes for aircraft's weapon systems, which the U.S. Congress subsequently refused to share.
Turkey in particular wanted access to the F-16s identification friend or foe software system to offer more flexibility to the Turkish air force's in flight software systems identifying foreign air force jets. The default setting of the original U.S. software for Turkey's F-16 fleet identified Israeli air force jets as "friendly."
To overcome the problem software systems, Turkish defense company ASELSAN developed new IFF software package, finalized in September 2011 and which is operational on Turkey's F-16 fleet, allowing Turkish fighter pilots to bypass the original software restrictions, permitting Turkish pilots to determine whether to recognize Israeli fighters as either friendly or hostile.
While currently purchasing F-35s, Turkey's defense industry has big plans for the future as, after 2020, it plans to design, develop and produce another fighter to close the JSF's deficiencies either with indigenous production or via a joint venture, possibly with South Korea.