F-35 is cheaper than the KAAN, which will become more expensive
Ankara’s initial plans were for the Turkish fifth-generation fighter jet, which made its debut weeks ago, to cost around $100 million. At least this price was advertised two years ago by Mr. Temel Kotil – CEO of Turkish Aerospace Industries [TAI].
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His latest announcement paints a different view of the Turkish fighter jet’s unit cost. According to him last week, KAAN may cost “a little more than planned”. The US Lockheed F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, which Turkey never received, is currently worth $75 million without an engine, according to open-source information. With an F-35 engine, the price reaches 85 million USD.
Of course, the price of the F-35 is even lower than the previously announced price for the KAAN, because the fighter has been on the market for a decade and is being bought by dozens of countries. In this regard, TAI intends to produce two fighters per month. This production capacity should be reached in 2029.
The engine will be key
It seems that the price of the Turkish KAAN in the future will depend on the engine. Currently, the prototypes will be powered by F110 engines. These engines have already been delivered to TAI as we reported in June 2022. But Turkey will seek to produce an engine whose intellectual property must be held by a Turkish company.
Kale Group and Rolls-Royce are the closest to jointly developing the engine for the Turkish fighter jet. The British company has been involved in the project, at least on paper, since the beginning. In recent years, however, Rolls-Royce has been unable to reach an agreement with Turkish manufacturers. One of the points of contention is precisely the intellectual property of the engine.
The engine powering the first KAAN prototype is well-known in the market. The General Electric F110 is the power unit of the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, Grumman F-14 Tomcat, McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle, Mitsubishi F-2, and Boeing F-15EX Eagle II. However, this engine cannot provide the requirements of the Turkish defense industry.
TAI expects to realize annual revenue through KAAN of USD 2.4 billion. This will happen when Turkey makes and pays the first batch of the planned acquisition quantity. But it won’t be enough. Turkey will have to sell the fighter to other countries. If the price remains higher than the F-35, it will be a very difficult task for TAI. Because the company will have to fight not only the F-35 but also the Russian Su-57.
According to experts, in the coming years, the price of the KAAN may be equal to that of the Chinese J-20 fighter. According to information from open sources, the Chinese stealth fighter is sold at a unit price of 110 million USD.
Pakistan and South Korea
Perhaps the appearance of a second player in the TAI TF-X KAAN program will balance the price. Pakistan is said to be a silo interested in participating in the program. In mid-February, Mr. Kotil held a miniature draft of the KAAN in his hands as he spoke on Pakistani television. “This is a Turkish-Pakistani fighter program,” he said.
Pakistan is one of the main partners of the Turkish defense industry. In recent years, this friendship has strengthened, with Islamabad purchasing drones from Turkey, including the Bayraktar TB2 and the Akinci attack drone.
Turkey sees a chance to reduce the price of KAAN if it enters the Asian market more seriously. Pakistan may be a gateway to this market, but another player is already emerging there – South Korea’s KAI KF-21 Boramae. Boramae has already engaged another country from the region – Indonesia. This fighter is rumored to cost between $80 and $100 million.
Turkey plans to make the first flight of KAAN in 2026. This term may be shortened, although there is no information about such attitudes. But in recent years, Turkey has repeatedly shown that it can work quickly and carry out tests well ahead of the announced date.
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