21.03.2024 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

The KAAN Fighter — The Hope of The Turkish Air Force

The future fifth-generation fighter KAAN

According to the Turkish TV channel TRT, on February 21, a test flight of the future fifth-generation fighter KAAN, which was designed in Turkey and is the hope of the Turkish Air Force, was made from the Murted airbase for the first time. The aircraft was in the air for 13 minutes, completing its required test missions and landing safely. Piloting the first flight of the KAAN was Barbaros Demirbaş. According to Turkish experts, the KAAN can surpass even American F-35 and F-22 “Raptor” fighters in terms of its tactical and technical characteristics.

It is no secret that strengthening the sovereignty and independent (especially foreign) policy of a state largely depends on the strength of its army. The latter is a consequence of the level of development of the national economy (first of all, the state’s military-industrial complex and the availability of modern defense production technologies).

Otherwise, the state depends both politically and financially on external supplies and prices, the world market of arms manufacturers and its relevant allies (partners). Therefore, the steps of the state in the foreign arena may be related not so much to the nature of national interests as to depend on the will and interests of the supplier countries. A clear example of such dependence today is Ukraine, which went into a military confrontation with Russia in the hope of military-political and military-technical assistance from the Collective West led by the United States.

It is clear that in the modern world it is difficult to develop a separate defense complex without taking into account and effectively using external relations, partnerships and intelligence institutions. The simple truth is that not all states have equal starting opportunities in terms of raw materials, production base, scientific potential and technological achievement. In such cases, good governance, flexible diplomacy and a competent leader can help to address the issues of strengthening a state’s defense capability. Modern Turkey under the leadership of charismatic President Erdoğan is a positive example of the breakthrough development of the national defense sector.

In a February 26 speech in Adana Province, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey’s defense industry is making historic progress and writing a new epic in the field. In the early 2000s, Turkey’s defense industry was 80 percent dependent on imports and external manufacturers, Erdoğan claimed. Accordingly, the majority of arms and military equipment was purchased abroad (primarily from NATO allies). As a rule, arms imports do not allow the importer to obtain the most modern equipment, because the supplier, one way or another, sells variants adapted for export with some limitations. At the same time, there is no full control over the purchased weapons, because the buyer depends on additional components and spare parts, combat programs and ammunition. Accordingly, in the event of a military conflict, the purchasing state is dependent on the supplying state.

Since coming to power, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has prioritized the defense sector, investing heavily in advanced defense technologies and supporting the development of domestic military corporations. Turkey has chosen a difficult, but the most correct and profitable path in the defense industry. “We have started to produce the weapons used by our security forces, including pistols and rifles, and we have invested heavily in new emerging technologies such as drones,” Erdoğan said. As a result, the projects Ankara started in the 2000s and 2010s have turned into modern weapons and military equipment such as drones, aircraft, tanks, ships, missiles and shells.

Today, the products of Turkey’s military-industrial complex are in great demand in the global arms market. Ankara is a supplier of Bayraktar UAVs to 34 countries, which have shown their advantages in real combat conditions (including in Nagorno-Karabakh, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine). In addition to drones, which have become a product of “national pride,” Turkey develops and produces the Kirpi APC, Kobra BMP, Altay tanks, Siper and HISAR-U Siper surface-to-air missile systems, the Anadolu UAV-carrying aircraft carrier, Commando mortars, Alkar self-propelled mortars; Turkey has also built its new S300 Piri Reis submarine and other hardware.

Turkey’s new fifth-generation KAAN combat fighter, whose development and construction began in 2017 under the National Combat Aircraft program by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), also looms large on this list. The experimental flight of the new aircraft was planned for December 2023, but took place after a slight delay in February 2024.

According to Turkish Aerospace Industries, serial production of KAAN fighters is planned for 2028. Between 10 and 24 fighters will be produced annually by the year 2034, and these fighters will eventually replace Turkey’s outdated fleet of F-16 combat aircraft.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has previously stated that the KAAN fighter will offer a number of advantages (including high maneuverability, precision targeting and the ability to operate out of range of enemy air defenses). Until recently, only a few countries in the world (Russia, China, the United States and the joint development of European countries – Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Italy) could design and mass-produce fifth-generation combat aircraft. These include the Su-57, Chengdu J-20, F-35 and Eurofighter Typhoon. Turkey will obviously join this list with the start of serial production of its KAAN fighters.

Ankara initially was planning to buy American-made F-35s, but since it was excluded from the F-35 production program due to the purchase of Russian S-400 Triumf air defense systems, and European manufacturers of the Eurofighter Typhoon (in particular, Germany), under US pressure, refused to sell new fighter jets to Turkey, the Turks decided to create their own fifth-generation fighter. The KAAN is a stealthy fighter jet using high-precision munitions and reaching a top speed of Mach 1.8.

However, it should be recognized that the technological development of the KAAN fighter aircraft is not the result of Turkish science and production facilities alone, as a number of foreign partners and companies are also involved.

In particular, in May 2017, the British Rolls-Royce group established the TAES joint venture with Turkey’s Kale Group to develop and produce engines for the TF-X aircraft. In 2022, the Turkish Defense Industry Authority confirmed that the “national” engine for the TF-X will be co-developed with Rolls-Royce, although prototypes and the first series of the fighter will be powered by US General Electric F110-GE-129 engines. It is also known that the TAI-controlled Turkish aircraft engine company Tusaş Engine Industries (TEI) has signed a contract with General Electric for the purchase of 10 F110-GE-129 engines to equip the TF-X prototypes. According to the Ukrainian ambassador in Ankara Vasyl Bodnar, Ukraine is also involved in the development of the engine for the Turkish KAAN fighter aircraft and plans to purchase this combat aircraft for the needs of its Air Force in the future.

However, the Turkish new-generation fighter is linked to the UK, the US and Ukraine only in terms of engine development.

The KAAN is a rather large twin-engine, single-seat aircraft based on low-observable technology. It is powered by General Electric’s F110-GE-129 turbojet twin-circuit after-burner engines. Its stated maximum takeoff weight exceeds 27 tons. The aircraft has a length of 21 meters, a wingspan of 14 meters and a height of 6 meters. Thus, geometrically, the KAAN is slightly larger than the American Lockheed Martin F-22A (length 18.92 meters, wingspan 13.56 meters and height 5.08 meters) and the Russian Su-57 (length 20.1 meters, wingspan 14.1 meters and height 4.6 meters).

An important distinguishing feature of the KAAN is the 2.35-2.5 m separation of the nacelles with TRDDFs at a distance of 2.35-2.5 m between the longitudinal axes. This feature allows a reduction in the accident rate of the propulsion system. In other words, even in the event of damage to one of the engines, the second engine is able to continue operation, to ensure the return of the aircraft to its home base, or to bring it into the zone of safe pilot ejection. A similar installation is available on the Russian MiG-29SMT/35, Su-27, Su-30SM, Su-34, Su-35 and Su-57 combat aircraft.

A high-resolution infrared matrix photodetector will provide the KAAN with F-35A-type target detection. Accordingly, quantum optoelectronic sighting systems such as OLS-50 of Russian fifth-generation Su-57 fighters have similar parameters.

This feature of KAAN parts and their similarity to their Russian counterparts may indicate a relevant Turkish-Russian partnership in the development of the new fighter’s parts. After all, it is no coincidence that Andrey Buravov, the Russian Consul General in Istanbul, noted that Russian companies are ready to cooperate with Turkey in the implementation of the KAAN fighter project. “In this context, we also want to develop military-technical cooperation,” the Russian diplomat stressed. “There have been proposals from our side before. But of course, specific aspects need to be discussed between specific companies.”

Thus, Turkey has been strengthening its defense capabilities and army year over year. Behind this strengthening defense industry is, as Erdoğan notes, Turkey’s growing reputation.

In other words, Turkey’s credibility in foreign policy and the international arena is bolstered by the achievements of the defense industry. That is why Erdoğan says, “As our dependence on foreign supplies in the defense industry decreases, our influence in the international arena increases. From Asia to Africa, dozens of millions are witnessing Turkey’s strengthening.”

As we can see, even in the development of the KAAN fighter, Turkey once again shows its ability to play on two fronts, cooperating with opposing centers: the US, UK, EU and Ukraine on the one side, and Russia on the other.

Of course, today it is a bit early to talk about the appearance of a fifth-generation fighter in Turkey. Presently the time horizon for production of this fighter is still 4-10 years out, which is a long time. During this time, aircraft building technologies in other developed countries is likely to advance.

Turkish aircraft builders still have questions on finalization of experimental samples of the combat aircraft, which is rather large and heavy in comparison to its analogues among fifth-generation fighters. However, the very fact of the first flight of the KAAN is already an achievement of the Turkish military-industrial complex.


Alexander SVARANTS – Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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