Turkish KAAN: Second prototype nears completion, flight tests next

Avionot.com, a Turkish source, reports that the assembly of the second TAI KAAN fighter prototype, a product of local industry, is nearing its final stages. Once the final assembly and engine integration processes are complete, the estimation is that the conclusion will be reached around June or July. Subsequently, the second prototype will undergo a series of comprehensive flight tests. 

Turkish KAAN: Second prototype nears completion, flight tests next
Photo credit: Twitter / Avionot

The first prototype of KAAN secured its place in the annals of Turkish aviation engineering and construction on February 21 of the current year with a 13-minute flight. This significant flight, piloted by Barbaros Demirbas, achieved speeds of 230 knots at an altitude of 8,000 feet. According to the strategic plans of the Turkish Ministry of Defense, by 2028, the Turkish Air Force should be armed with at least 20 KAAN units. 

The Turkish Aerospace Industry [TAI] considers the assembly of this second prototype as a pivotal milestone in the aircraft’s ongoing evolution. The impending comprehensive flight tests will not only ask questions but will also provide vital responses. In any such project, the development and testing of a second prototype is always marked as a crucial turning point.

In the first stage of the KAAN’s airborne trials, the team will meticulously assess the aircraft’s flightworthiness. This involves judgments on the aircraft’s maneuverability, stability, and control across various altitudes and speeds, ensuring its performance aligns with expectations. 

Once that is done, the KAAN’s abilities will be measured in the performance testing phase. Here, the team will evaluate vital performance parameters such as speed, range, and endurance. Thereafter, the aircraft enters system testing. At this stage, a thorough examination of all onboard systems like avionics, navigation, communications, and weapon systems takes place. Naturally, any hiccups detected during this period will be scrutinized and rectified.  

Structural testing also forms part of the evaluation process to assert that the aircraft can weather the strains of flight. The tests conducted during this phase involve checking for the impact of aerodynamic loads, vibrations, and other structural stresses. Lastly, the aircraft will endure operational tests. This means it will be flown under conditions that simulate real operational circumstances, including tests for take-offs, landings, maneuverability, and task-specific scenarios.

Gathering and interpreting data from flight tests is a crucial step in the refining phase of aircraft development. This data-driven method helps pinpoint any potential weaknesses or areas that can benefit from further advancement. This arithmetic approach aids in enhancing the aircraft’s efficiency and reliability. 

F-35 is cheaper than the KAAN, which will become more expensive
Photo credit: DIA

BAE Systems, a renowned British company, also plays an essential role as a sub-contractor in the KAI TF KAAN project, under the main contractor TAI. Back in December 2015, Turkey strategically decided to collaborate with BAE Systems from the UK to foster the design of its next-gen air superiority fighter. The design and development contract finalized in August 2016, with TAI directing a whopping $1.18 billion towards it.

However, the project tends to consume a large portion of Turkey’s financial resources. Naturally, this raises a question: how can Turkey afford to develop a fifth-generation fighter with a defense budget of a mere 40 billion USD [as of the year 2024]? The answer is quite logical, yet interesting. The KAAN does not rely on funds from the defense budget. In other words, they do not utilize defense budget funds for development.

Firms such as TAI, TEI, Aselsan, Aspilsan, and Roketsan, which operate under the control of the Presidency of Defense Industry, operate under the direct leadership of the Turkish Presidency of the Defense Industry Office. Their funding comes directly from the budget, bypassing the defense budget. This fund is unique and non-negotiable, resulting in abundant finances.

However, Turkish taxpayers could significantly reduce the financial burden regarding the KAAN project. This is where Azerbaijan comes into play. In August 2023, TAI and Azerbaijan signed a National Protocol on Cooperation in the Development of Combat Aircraft. The aim is to involve Azerbaijan in Turkey’s fifth-generation fighter program, the TAI TF-X or simply, KAAN.

The purpose of this protocol is to establish the working guidelines and procedures for successful collaboration between the partners. This includes the developmental activities associated with the National Combat Aircraft. Moreover, this agreement seeks to determine Azerbaijan’s potential contributions to the KAAN program. It intends to outline a roadmap to utilize the appropriate facilities and companies, enhance production capabilities, and encourage the sharing of knowledge and experience.

According to the head of government contracting at Turkey’s Tusas Engine Industries, as cited by Shepard, the inclusion of Azerbaijan in Turkey’s KAAN program could result in shared project costs and reciprocal economic advantages.

Turkey is keen on engaging countries with which it shares strategic military partnerships and robust political ties. News of Pakistan potentially being the second partner in this program surfaced last year. If Pakistan were to join, it could propel the KAAN project significantly and mitigate any risks for Turkey. Given the scope and technical depth of this project, global collaboration could lessen the economic burden while also enhancing the aircraft’s performance.

Thousands came to see live the KAAN - the Turkish 5th-gen fighter
Video screenshot

Despite Turkey’s ambitious timeline for the fighter jet, experts estimate that it will take at least a decade for the aircraft to achieve full operational capability. The first KAAN prototype was assembled in April 2022, presented to the public in January 2023, and underwent its first engine test run in February 2023.

The TAI KAAN, a state-of-the-art, twin-engine stealth fighter aircraft, stands primed for all-weather combat. It exemplifies innovative engineering with its high maneuverability and stealth features, aimed squarely at dominating air superiority missions and strike endeavors. Intriguingly, American engineering roots power the very heart of this cutting-edge jet—the General Electric F110 turbofan engine. The estimated dimensions of the aircraft are approximately 19 meters in length, with a wingspan stretched to 12 meters and a height totaling 5.5 meters.

Let’s delve into the technical specs of the TAI KAAN. It achieves a top speed exceeding Mach 2 and soars to a service ceiling of 55,000 feet. Handling this speed demon at full throttle means managing a weight of approximately 27,215 kg. The KAAN sets itself apart with advanced avionics. It boasts a package that includes an AESA radar, top-of-the-line electronic warfare systems. KAAN has also a suite of sensor and communication systems.

Turkish KAAN is able to neutralize a Russian Su-57 in Ukraine
Photo credit: Twitter

Naturally, one might ask—how far can the TAI KAAN travel on a single tank? Well, analysts project it to cover an impressive 1,111 kilometers on its internal fuel reserve. However, with the added advantage of aerial refueling, pilots can significantly extend its range, making it a formidable contender for long-range missions.

Analysts project that the TAI KAAN will host an array of weapons—a mix of air-to-air, air-to-surface, and anti-ship missiles. Additionally, there is the possibility that developers might include an internal gun! To maintain stealthiness, designers expect the jet to carry its weapon load inside internal bays. But rest assured, the design does accommodate external hardpoints as an option for additional weapons or fuel tanks.


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