Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has admitted that a single pilot in the Turkish Air Forces has to carry out assignments that are normally undertaken by five pilots, revealing the heavy toll an unprecedented purge has taken on the country’s air force.
Speaking to troops during a visit to Syria, where he toured the tomb of Süleyman Shah in the village of Ashmeh on January 1, 2019, Akar said one pilot in the air force has recently had to do the work of five pilots during cross-border air operations.
This is the first public admission by a senior government official of the acute shortage of fighter pilots in the Turkish military in the aftermath of a mass purge of officers from the air force on what observers believe are dubious charges.
According to local media reports, since 2016 the government has dismissed 716 pilots, more than half the total, through executive decrees, issued during a now-ended state of emergency, that are not subject to any effective judicial, military or legislative review.
Akar praised the air force in his speech and said, “When we conduct ground operations, our air force, with great heroism and sacrifice, successfully hits its targets, with one pilot assuming tasks that five pilots are supposed to do.”
He was accompanied by Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler, Turkish Land Forces Commander Gen. Ümit Dündar, Naval Forces Commander Adm. Adnan Özbal and Turkish Air Forces Commander Gen. Hasan Küçükakyüz.
The air force in 2017 recalled 1,040 military pilot candidates who had been eliminated in previous tests. Eight hundred thirty of them reportedly passed the competency test and were in training to become military pilots.
In an effort to solve the shortage, the Turkish government also issued a call in 2017 to former fighter pilots, most of whom work in civil aviation. Only 40 of the 300 former pilots responded to the call to return to duty.
The Turkish Air Forces has been hard hit by a purge of NATO officers following a controversial coup attempt, bringing the ratio of pilots to aircraft to “0.8 to 1,” which is worsening with new waves of arrests of fighter pilots. Some reports suggest that the ratio of pilots per airplane is 0.3.