Retirement Of Turkish F-4E Phantom IIs Delayed Through 2030

The Turkish Air Force’s remaining fleet of F-4E Phantom IIs have had their planned retirement date delayed to at least 2030, after modernization plans hit a snag.

Defense Minister Hulusi Akar revealed the delay in response to questions from opposition lawmakers during a Parliament appearance on the Turkish Defense Ministry’s 2022 budget proposal. The minister was presenting updated information on the Turkish Air Force’s short and medium-term planning to the planning and budget commission.

Akar also spoke on the long-term prospects of Turkey’s F-16 fleet. According to him, the fleet has the potential to be used for “many years”, thanks to ongoing modernization projects. However, negotiations on the supply of Lockheed Martin-built upgrade kits, as well as new build F-16Vs, remain underway.

A Turkish Air Force F-4 Phantom waits at the end of the runway after catching the barrier on a BAK-12 aircraft arresting system during an annual test Feb. 24, 2014, Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Aircraft arresting systems are used to rapidly decelerate an aircraft as it lands. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nicole Sikorski/Released)

The Turkish Air Force currently has around 30 active F-4Es, all of them upgraded to Terminator 2020 specification in the early 2000s. The F-4Es, which first entered Turkish service in 1974, were planned to be retired in the early 2020s and replaced by F-35s, in a plan similar to the Japan Air Self-Defence Force’s replacement of its own Phantoms with F-35As. However, the 2019 ejection of Turkey from the F-35 program over its purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems threw the plans into disarray.

Similarly, the oldest F-16s in Turkish service are planned to be replaced by the TF-X indigenous stealth fighter in the 2030s, as the first production TF-Xs enter service. However, design progress on the TF-X has lagged far behind schedule, while contention over technology transfer requirements have also slowed the search for foreign collaborators on the program, which also aims to have the final TF-X exported.

The first component of the TF-X manufactured by Turkish Aerospace Industries (Turkish Aerospace Industries)

While Turkish Aerospace Industries CEO Temel Kotil announced on November 4 that the TF-X manufacturer has completed the first component that will see use in the aircraft, it remains unclear as to whether the manufacturer can achieve its aims of unveiling a completed TF-X in 2023, or its first flight in 2026.