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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
24 Feb 2024
Benedict Smith

Turkey develops stealth fighter after being kicked off F-35 programme

Turkey is racing ahead with the development of its own stealth fighter jet after being kicked out of the F-35 programme.

Its own fifth-generation aircraft, called the Kaan, took its maiden flight this week in north Ankara.

Footage shows the sleek jet taxiing on an airbase runway, sunlight glinting off its nose, before it takes off and climbs to an altitude of 8,000ft.

Its landing gear stays deployed throughout the flight as it travels at a speed of 230 knots (265mph), before it touches back down smoothly on the tarmac.

Ankara was a member of the American F-35 fighter jet programme until 2019, and had planned to purchase around 100 of the stealth fighters.

However, it was expelled from the group by the US, which was angered when Turkey decided to buy advanced S-400 air defence missile systems from Russia.

Relations nosedived in the ensuing row as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, claimed the US had been paid for a shipment of F-35s but failed to deliver them.

“In the future, nobody will be able to interfere in terms of what kind of defence systems we acquire, from which country at what level,” he declared in 2021.

The Kaan was developed between Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and Britain’s BAE Systems, as part of a $125 million (£100 million) deal signed in 2017.

Swift progress

It completed its first taxi test on a runway in March 2023, meaning its manufacturers have managed to get it airborne in under a year.

In comments reported by Turkish media, Temel Kotil, the chief executive of TAI, had previously named 2025 and October 2024 as targets for the Kaan’s maiden flight.

He added that the company planned to manufacture 24 jets per year from 2029, but production could “increase exponentially as needed”.

The Kaan is intended to eventually replace Turkey’s fleet of F-16 jets and is expected to be in service until the 2070s.

When the Kaan is introduced, Turkey will become one of only a handful of countries to have developed and fielded their own fifth-generation fighter aircraft. So far only the United States, Russia and China have achieved the feat.

“With Kaan, our country will not only have a fifth-generation fighter jet, but also technologies that few countries in the world have,” Haluk Gorgun, head of Turkey’s Defence Industries Directorate, said.

The fighter jet can reportedly reach a maximum speed of 1.8 times the speed of sound thanks to its twin engines, which produce 29,000lb of thrust each.

Tensions between Washington and Ankara have eased since Mr Erdoğan approved Sweden’s entry into Nato in January, having resisted the move for almost two years.

The next day, Turkey secured a deal for 40 F-16 fighter jets, along with dozens of modernisation kits for its existing fleet, from the US.