Turkey: US didn’t give us F-35, we made KAAN, Pakistan is buying KAAN

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Yasar Güler, Turkish National Defense Minister, has recently disclosed that Pakistan is on the cusp of joining the KAAN national combat aircraft program, with an agreement nearing finalization. 

Güler’s statement revealed the silver lining of the US’s refusal to supply Turkey with the F-35. This setback, he said, spurred Turkey to develop its own aircraft, leading to the creation of the KAAN. This aircraft has not only proven Turkey’s capabilities but is also attracting interest from friendly nations keen to join the project. “An agreement was inked with Azerbaijan, and there are other nations in line, including Pakistan,” Güler added. 

Azerbaijan has already made a pivotal decision regarding the KAAN fighter jet, which has just started ground trials. This has resulted in a collaborative agreement between Turkey and Azerbaijan for the development of the KAAN, a national combat aircraft. 

The signing of this significant “National Cooperation for the Development of Combat Aircraft” agreement took place during IDEF’23, between the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan and Turkish Aerospace Industries [TAI]. 

In-depth timeline of the MMU KAAN program 

Photo credit: DIA

The journey of the KAAN national combat aircraft, also known as T0, began in 2018 when the initial conditions were met. The preliminary design phase of the KAAN was then undertaken from 2018 through 2022 as part of Phase-1. 

Phase-2, set to span from 2022 to 2029, involves detailed design and qualification activities for the MMU KAAN. The aircraft is expected to emerge from the hangar in 2023, with the production of three prototypes targeted by 2026. 

By 2029, the Block-10 configuration, which is slated for delivery to the Air Force Command, should be ready. Under Phase 2, 10 TF-X Blok-1 combat aircraft will be produced and delivered to the Turkish Air Force from 2030 to 2033. However, TAI has adjusted this timeline, bringing the delivery date forward to 2028. 

Phase-3, spanning from 2034 to 2040, will focus on the development and mass production of other TF-X blocks. Once again, TAI has revised this timeline, setting the new target date to 2030.

The dynamics of financial investments 

The success of the KAAN project heavily relies on the support from participating nations, especially in its embryonic phase. Azerbaijan, for instance, could play a vital role through financial investments and industrial partnerships. Similarly, Pakistan’s involvement could provide a significant boost with its rich resources, sophisticated technology, and manufacturing prowess.  

Nonetheless, Pakistan’s close ties with China might pose a potential challenge for the KAAN project. This association could potentially dissuade Western suppliers from providing parts, driven by concerns over security.  

KAAN and Turkey’s strategic goals 

Photo credit: SavunmaSanayiST.com

The KAAN project emerges as a significant component of Turkey’s strategy to curtail its reliance on foreign fighters. However, it is unlikely to bring about any immediate changes in Turkey’s procurement plans. The KAAN fighter is projected to achieve combat-readiness by the mid-2030s, and the costs associated with this endeavor could be substantial.  

Thus, Turkey is likely to continue enhancing its existing F-16 fleet and procuring additional aircraft until the KAAN is fully operational. Depending on a range of factors, Turkey might choose to maintain a diverse assortment of aircraft even after the KAAN becomes fully functional. 

Unveiling the KAAN fighter 

Photo credit: DIA

The KAAN 5th-gen fighter, a brainchild of Turkey’s state-owned defense company, Turkish Aerospace Industries [TAI], represents the next generation of fighter aircraft. This multirole aircraft is designed with the capability to execute air-to-air, air-to-ground, and electronic warfare missions. 

With a length of 22 meters, a wingspan of 14 meters, and a height of 6 meters, the KAAN fighter stands out in terms of dimensions. It has a maximum takeoff weight of 30,000 kg and can reach a top speed of Mach 2. The aircraft is powered by two engines, each capable of delivering up to 27,000 pounds of thrust. 

The KAAN 5th-gen fighter comes equipped with a broad spectrum of armaments, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, and bombs. Additionally, it houses a 25mm cannon on the underside of the fuselage. The advanced avionics system comprises a radar system, an electronic warfare suite, and a helmet-mounted display system for the pilot.

Why was Turkey kicked out of the F-35 program?

Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 program due to its decision to purchase the Russian S-400 missile defense system. The US government argued that the S-400 system is incompatible with NATO defense systems and could compromise the security of the F-35 program.

Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400 system was seen as a betrayal by the US, as Turkey is a NATO member and a key ally in the region. The US had offered Turkey alternative missile defense systems, but Turkey refused to back down from its deal with Russia.

Photo credit: Twitter

The US had warned Turkey that the purchase of the S-400 system would result in its removal from the F-35 program, but Turkey went ahead with the purchase anyway. As a result, Turkey was officially removed from the program in July 2019.

The removal of Turkey from the F-35 program has had significant consequences for both Turkey and the program itself. Turkey was a significant partner in the program, producing parts for the F-35 and planning to purchase over 100 of the aircraft. The US has had to find alternative suppliers for these parts, which has led to delays and increased costs for the program.

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