Competition is growing among the major nations of the world to enter the commercial aircraft market. The ability to build such aircraft domestically is important both symbolically and practically. Only a handful of countries are home to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of either commercial or military aircraft. Sales of commercial aircraft are a major source of high-quality jobs and export earnings; Boeing has consistently been America’s top exporting company. Canada’s Bombardier and Brazil’s Embraer are examples of successful producers of indigenously-designed aircraft.
These programs also can have significance for a nation’s military capabilities. Regional commercial aircraft can serve as military transports and intelligence platforms. Many of the skills associated with building such aircraft are relevant to supporting national air forces. Embraer’s Super Tucano turboprop is an extremely successful light attack/ISR aircraft. It also is the platform for the U.S. Light Air Support program to supply the Afghan Air Force with a fleet of counterinsurgency airplanes. The U.S. Air Force is looking seriously at a commercial business jet as an affordable platform on which to build the replacement for its Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS).
Now Turkey is poised to enter the regional aircraft marketplace. A Turkish company, Havacılık Teknolojileri Şirketi (TRJet), is moving ahead with an ambitious plan to create a robust domestic production capability for regional aircraft. The program is to produce four models based on a common design framework: two smaller 32 seat aircraft, a jet (TRJ-328) and a turboprop (TR-328) and two larger, 60 to 70 seat aircraft, a jet (TRJ-628) and a turboprop (TR-628).
This program has both commercial and military aspects. Aircraft such as those TRJet plans to build have tremendous value in the developing world which has a growing need to move people regionally using relatively small, often unimproved airports. TRJet’s two classes of aircraft are appropriate to support a wide range of military functions including logistics, medical evacuation and ISR. It should come as no surprise that the regional jet program will be run by Turkey’s defense procurement office, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM) and supported by Ankara-based STM, a state-controlled defense technologies company.
The TRJet program is an example of the accelerating global transfer of advanced engineering and manufacturing capabilities. The TRJets are based on the designs for the Dornier 328 and Dornier 628 aircraft. The intellectual property embodied in the two Dornier designs was transferred to the Turkish company by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). SNC is a premier U.S. high tech aerospace and defense firm. It designs and develops cutting edge systems and platforms for the U.S. government including C4ISR aircraft, man-portable and vehicle-mounted improvised explosive device jammers and the remarkable Dream Chaser, a candidate for the replacement for NASA’s Space Shuttle. SNC will add the “secret sauce” needed to turn the Dornier designs into modern, capable commercial and military aircraft.
The plan is to modernize the Dornier-based designs. The program will start by modernizing the smaller TRJ-328. Fifty aircraft will be acquired by the Government of Turkey with the first five aircraft to be manufactured in Germany for certification purposes and the remaining 45 to be produced in Turkey. This will set the stage and create the skilled workforce and knowhow to design and produce the two variants of the larger TRJ-628. These aircraft will be completely designed and produced in Turkey.
The mantra in the U.S. military is that this nation will always go to war as part of a coalition of like-minded and capable allies and friends. Turkey is a member of the NATO Alliance and a participant in the coalition to defeat ISIS. A more capable Turkey, with an indigenous aircraft industry, will be a better ally.
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