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Mon, Feb 26, 2024

Turkish Stealth Fighter Learns from the Best, Flies Like the Rest

NATO Member Bolstering Niche as White Label Purveyor of Modern Combat Tech

Turkish Aerospace Industries sent up its 5th-generation stealth fighter, the KAAN, for the first time, signaling an important milestone on its way to service in the mid 2030's.

"Its maiden flight on February 21, 2024, staying airborne for 13 minutes. During this flight, it reached an altitude of 8000 feet and achieved a speed of 230 knots."

The KAAN is an indigenous development, and a rarity in a world that's seemingly been subsumed into a series of F-35 operators. Much like the F-35, however, the KAAN strikes a nearly identical figure, with the same splayed vertical stabilizers, trapezoidal intakes, sawtooth panel lines, and slate-gray color schemes. Turkey cribbed from - er, learned from - the big players in the scene here too. They offer the same alphabet soup of buzzwords that have splashed across beltway powerpoints for years now, boasting of the KAAN's "increased situational awareness, sensor fusion, low observability, internal weapon bay, ...etc" to the point that even they handwave the toil of finishing that list of strengths. (That's seriously, honestly copied straight from the TAI introductory paragraph itself!)

The KAAN is said to enter service sometime in the 2030s, operating into the 2070s and offering a high level of interoperability with NATO assets like the F-35 Lightning II. TAI is still paying attention to all the right buzzwords, too, promising "Increased air to air engagement ranges with Novel Weapons, precise and accurate weapon firing from internal weapon bays at high/supersonic speed, and augmented lethality with support of Artificial Intelligence and Neural Networks." How much of that will come into being will always remain up in the air, but Turkey's place as an arms provider to the world has been given much higher visibility since the dustup in Ukraine, where the country's Bayraktar UAV found a brief time in the spotlight. Now, they offer a sort of 'white label' defense industry, allowing cash-strapped nations arms and systems that look and perform close enough to modern equipment without the associated diplomatic, monetary, and licensing strings attached.

That's leaving out the tangled web of drama regarding Turkey's purchase of Russian S-400 SAM systems. The country was booted from the F-35 consortium after purchasing the systems, American engineers & policy makers understandably wary of ever seeing America's invincible/invisible halo fighter stacked up against the latest and greatest SAM tech the East has to offer. Turkey said it only snagged the Russian system because the US denied its request for Patriot missiles, leaving them in the nebulously enviable/unenviable position of creating their own 5th-gen stealth fighter. For now, it could be a boondoggle or a blessing, only time and a successful production run will tell. But for aviation enthusiasts, it's refreshing to know there's another bit of diversity on the bookshelf of model aircraft. 

FMI: www.tusas.com/en


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