Greece and Turkey are both gearing up to introduce new stealth fighter jets into their respective air forces by the end of the decade. Greece plans to acquire US-designed F-35s, while Turkey is developing its domestically designed TF Kaan. Although both countries are members of NATO, their historically tense political and territorial disputes, especially in the Aegean Sea, have resulted in confrontations between their militaries. These tensions have raised concerns within the alliance about the potential for intra-alliance conflicts.
Greece anticipates receiving the first batch of at least 20 F-35A jets between 2028 and 2033, whereas Turkey, unable to purchase F-35s due to its acquisition of Russia’s S-400 air-defense system, aims to deploy its TF Kaan around the same time. Turkish Aerospace Industries has set a goal to deliver the first 20 TF Kaan jets in 2028. While both aircraft are considered stealthy, they may possess different capabilities, and it’s challenging to assess how they would perform in an engagement, particularly since the TF Kaan is not yet operational.
One notable difference is in their engines, with the TF Kaan utilizing the older and less powerful GE F110 engine compared to the F-35’s Pratt and Whitney F135 engine. This engine discrepancy could leave the TF Kaan at a disadvantage when facing Greece’s F-35s. The TF Kaan is expected to serve as a replacement for Turkey’s aging F-16 fleet rather than a direct competitor to Greece’s F-35, implying that Greece may maintain a technological edge.
George Tzogopoulos, a senior fellow at the Centre International de Formation Européenne, expressed skepticism about Turkey’s ability to meet its TF Kaan production timeline, citing several unknown factors that could hinder progress. He noted that only Azerbaijan has partnered with Turkey on the TF Kaan project, and cautiousness is warranted despite Turkey’s ambitions in the sector.
While the introduction of stealth fighters could add complexity to the occasional mock dogfights between Greece and Turkey over the Aegean Sea, the situation is already precarious. The risk of miscalculation and accidents exists in these dogfights, but both countries would likely be incentivized to establish protocols to avoid accidental shoot-downs and military incidents. The outcome in the Aegean will depend on ongoing negotiations to de-escalate tensions, and if these talks fail, tensions may escalate further, regardless of the aircraft involved.