German unions back Turkey’s effort to buy Eurofighters amid fears workforce will be lost

Turkey wants to buy 40 Eurofighter Typhoons but has struggled to gain Germany's backing

Turkey is trying to buy 40 Eurofighter Typhoon jets. Reuters
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Aviation unions in Germany are backing Turkey's efforts to buy 40 Eurofighter Typhoons over fears its specialist workforce will be lost if contracts for the jets are not drawn up and signed.

The Eurofighter Typhoon jets are built by a consortium of Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain, represented by Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo.

Turkey's Defence Minister Yasar Guler said he has been in talks with Britain and Spain to buy the Typhoons but Germany has objected to the idea.

On Thursday, Mr Guler held discussions with his British counterpart Grant Shapps in Ankara amid hopes the UK can help to persuade Germany to reconsider its request.

Authorities in Germany are facing increased pressure from its unions to enter into an agreement.

It comes as Germany has acted as a drag on deals to sell another batch of the jets to Saudi Arabia.

MTU Aero Engines’ told The National issuing contracts to build the Eurofighters was vital to the future of defence manufacturing in Germany.

"We are in favour of strengthening military aviation in Germany. The course must now be set to make our sites fit for the future," a spokesman said.

"This requires reliability in planning, particularly in the military sector, especially with regard to the future of the Eurofighter. It is necessary to launch a development contract for the further development of the Eurofighter before the end of this legislative period.

"The end of the Eurofighter programme would lead to noticeable cuts in the European high-tech supplier landscape in just a few years. These highly specialised workers and production capacities must be maintained with a view to the future European air defence system FCAS [Future Combat Air System].

"We need the engineers who are working on the further development of the Eurofighter. Otherwise they will migrate to other industries. We are creating the basis for a strong role for the German aviation and supplier industry in future European technology projects.

"Europe must strengthen its sovereignty in defence matters. That is why we should not look mainly to the USA for procurement, as we have done recently."

Michael Reisch, political secretary and operations manager at Airbus, which manufactures Eurofighters, said Germany needs to issue the contracts to ensure its "military independence".

"We at IG Metall demand that taxpayers' money be tied to conditions such as the further development of the Eurofighter," he said.

"Secure jobs and supply chains are the prerequisites for our independence in military aviation.”

His calls have been backed by Thomas Pretzl, chair of the works council at Airbus Defence and Space.

"At our location the following applies: Anyone who says we need a new era must buy the Eurofighter," he said.

"Unfortunately, politicians are not acting so consistently. But the fact is, if the further development and subsequent construction of additional Eurofighters is not commissioned now, the next government will have no choice but to buy American fighter jets, that would be anything but good for Germany.”

More than 25,000 people and more than 120 companies are involved in Germany's aviation industry.

Turkey began talks with European states after recognising that its request for F-16 jets from the United States might not work out, a Turkish defence ministry source said on Thursday.

In October 2021 it had asked to buy 40 Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 fighters and 79 modernisation kits for its existing warplanes.

Despite US President Joe Biden's administration backing the $20 billion sale, there have been objections in the US Congress over Turkey's reluctance to allow Sweden to join Nato.

In a statement, Turkey's defence ministry said Mr Guler wants to further develop co-operation with Britain "in many areas, namely our national combat aircraft Kaan and new issues like the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets".

It also cited Mr Shapps as saying that the issue of procuring the jets was discussed in the meeting.

"For regional power balances, Turkey's need for a new-technology fighter jet is no secret," defence analyst Tayfun Ozberk said. "In this context, the move to acquire the Eurofighters may have been made to pressure the Biden administration to persuade Congress [to agree] the sale of F-16s as soon as possible."

The Typhoons are "really the last chance to keep Turkey in the western defence industry", said Serhat Guvenc, an international relations professor at Kadir Has University in Istanbul.

"Acquiring the Eurofighter could create some operational issues because the Turkish air force operates in line with the American system. However, ultimately, the Eurofighter is a joint production of Nato members. Therefore, there shouldn't be an interoperability problem."

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he could go elsewhere if German Chancellor Olaf Scholz did not agree.

"We can procure fighter jets from many other places," Mr Erdogan said.

It is not just Turkey facing rejection, Germany has also been a stumbling block for completion of a long-standing order from Saudi Arabia.

It had been seeking to buy 48 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets but Germany's complicated coalition politics has been holding up the confirmation of a delivery date. It is estimated the delay will have cost German defence companies €2.3 billion ($2.51 billion) in revenue by 2026.

Updated: November 26, 2023, 10:18 AM