Turkey's Strategic Shift: JF-17 Thunder Acquisition Amid NATO Tensions

Turkey's decision to acquire the Chinese-Pakistani co-developed JF-17 Thunder could be a response to Germany's opposition to its request for Eurofighter Typhoons. Turkey has been hopeful that Germany will come around, but it remains skeptical. The Turkish Defense Minister, Yaşar Güler, has expressed his belief that Turkey has many options for military jets, including the Russian Su-35s and Su-57s, which are technically lacking and expensive to integrate with Turkey's existing US-sourced military hardware.


The Turkish President has also mentioned that Ankara has developed a family of short-, medium-, and long-range surface-to-air missile systems. If Turkey decides to defy NATO again, the JF-17 could be a suitable replacement for its aging F-16s. The Pakistan Air Force has deployed JF-17 for counter-terrorism operations, and the latest block-III variant is estimated to cost around US$32 million. The JF-17 is designed to deploy Chinese weapons on its seven hardpoints, including the PL-5 short-range air-to-air missile, LS-6 ‘Thunderstone’ GPS-guided glide bombs, and YJ-12 supersonic and YJ-83 subsonic anti-shipping missiles.


If Turkey needs to acquire non-Western fighters, the ideal choice could be Russian Su-35S Super Flankers, but that would further antagonize the West. The purchase of fighter jets is required to plug the capability gap until Turkey's indigenously developed fifth-generation fighter jet, KAAN, enters the operational fleet by 2034. Its maiden flight is expected on December 27, 2023.

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Despite the tumultuous relationship between Turkey and NATO, NATO hopes that Erdogan will not go against the military alliance, given Turkey's accession to the European Union. The US Congress has opposed Turkey's purchase of the S-400 surface-to-air missile, as it can help Russia glean tactical information on US weaponry and military operations. However, there have been objections in the US Congress over Turkey's delaying Sweden's bid to join the NATO alliance. In response to these concerns, Turkey's Defense Minister, Yaşar Güler, has signaled that the Turkish Parliament will only act on Sweden if the US Congress approves its F-16 request.

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