TechTurkey's Kaan Fighter Jet Soars in Maiden Flight, Eyeing Independence in Aviation Tech

Turkey's Kaan Fighter Jet Soars in Maiden Flight, Eyeing Independence in Aviation Tech

Turkish fighter Kaan
Turkish fighter Kaan
Images source: © X
3:23 PM EDT, March 26, 2024

The Turkish next-generation fighter jet, Kaan, successfully completed its maiden flight today. Despite facing numerous delays, Turkey's achievement in this endeavor is undeniable. The fighter development program has been progressing at an impressive pace, propelling Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) into the ranks of the world's elite aviation conglomerates capable of producing modern combat aircraft.

Formerly known as TF-X and MMU (National Combat Aircraft), Kaan flew for thirteen minutes without retracting its landing gear. During this flight, it attained an altitude of 8,000 feet (approximately 2,440 meters) and reached speeds of 230 knots (around 265 miles per hour). An F-16D fighter jet accompanied the prototype throughout the flight, and upon landing, Kaan utilized a drag parachute for deceleration.

After completing a series of static tests last fall, Kaan was initially scheduled to undertake its maiden flight on December 27. However, due to delays in the engineering schedule, including missed preliminary taxiing trials in 2023, the flight was postponed to January before finally taking place in the last week of February.

The fighter is poised to replace Turkey's fleet of F-16C/D in the fourth decade of the 21st century. Designed as a multirole fighter with a strong focus on air-to-air combat, Kaan aims to maintain the Turkish Air Force's capacity with a production scale mirroring its current inventory of about 240 F-16s.

Though the Kaan prototype currently uses General Electric F110 engines, identical to those in the F-16 for convenience and accessibility due to local production under license, this setup is a temporary solution. Ankara has sought US permission for co-production of F110 engines for the Kaan's initial batch. The ultimate goal, however, is for the aircraft to be powered by a domestically developed engine, in collaboration with Rolls-Royce, ensuring Turkey retains complete or at least majority control over critical components. This approach aims to minimize dependency in international contracts.

In July last year, an announcement confirmed Azerbaijan's involvement in the Kaan project, reinforcing the strong ties between Turkey and its closest ally, Azerbaijan. The relationship echoes the sentiment of Azerbaijan's former president, Heydər Əliyev, who famously stated that Turks and Azerbaijanis are "one nation living in two countries." As such, this partnership emphasizes the continued close relationship between Ankara and Baku. Though Azerbaijan's contribution was initially portrayed as substantial, it predominantly involves financial support, a strategy similar to Indonesia's role in the South Korean KF-X program, enabling both nations to access advanced capabilities currently beyond their domestic capabilities.

The MMU program officially commenced in 2010, with conceptual development starting the year after. A full-size mockup was unveiled at the 2019 Paris Air Show, with the maiden flight initially anticipated by 2025. However, the development schedule was soon accelerated. The prototype was unveiled, and its first taxi tests occurred on March 18, 2023.

In 2022, Turkish company Aselsan introduced the core of the sensor suite, an AESA radar station named Murad, as part of the domestic modernization effort for Turkey's F-16C/D Block 30. It remains uncertain if Kaan will be outfitted with more advanced detection systems, such as the AN/AAR-56 used in the American Raptor, which provides missile attack warnings. When the completed prototype was presented, the sensor package installed in front of the cockpit canopy and under the nose drew considerable interest, suggesting possible parallels with the Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) used in the F-35.

Currently, 1300 Turkish engineers, aided by 100 engineers from BAE Systems, are working diligently on the TF-X project. The program also benefits from the collaboration of international partners, with companies such as Dassault Systèmes and Siemens providing essential design software, and various wind tunnel tests conducted across the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of South Africa.

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