Procurement: Turkey Developing a Stealth Fighter


October 3, 2023: Turkey is developing its own stealth fighter. Turkey had ordered F-35s, but before they arrived Turkey and the United States got into a dispute over Turkey ordering the Russian S-400 air defense system. Turkey was warned that a Russian air defense system could not be integrated into the NATO joint air defense system compromising the security of current NATO air defense systems. Turkey disagreed but that did not prevent Turkey from having its F-35 ordered canceled. The only other countries with stealth fighters were Russia and China. The Russian Su-57 didn’t work and the Chinese J-20 has little stealth plus production problems China will not talk about. Turkey believes they can avoid the problems Russia and China encountered and deliver its Kaan stealth fighter by 2028. The first flight of the prototype is supposed to take place by the end of 2023.

Kaan is a 27-ton twin engine aircraft with a top speed of 2,200 kilometers an hour, a max altitude of 17 kilometers (55,000 feet), a combat range of 1,000 kilometers and max weapons payload of six tons. While having stealth features, Kaan is not as stealthy as the F-35 and does not have the advanced sensor fusion and flight control capabilities of the F-25. Pilots who have flown all agree that the sensor fusion and novel flight control systems are what really makes the F-35 unique and easier to fly. American warplane manufacturers have been developing these features for decades and the F-35 made full use of that.

Other countries have been less successful at developing stealth fighters. The best example of this is Russia, which failed to get its first stealth fighter, the Su-57, to work as it was designed to. Russia has not stopped trying. For example, in 2021 Russia revealed a new single engine stealth fighter called Checkmate. Sukhoi, the developer and manufacturer of the most successful current Russian fighters, displayed a mockup of the new single-engine Su-75 Checkmate stealth fighter, which is apparently the Russian answer to the similar American F-35. Checkmate is being developed by the same team that designed the Su-57, the Russian answer to the American F-22. The Su-57 proved to be a failure as an F-22 clone and few are being built, and those only for the Russian Air Force. Export customers canceled orders and accused Sukhoi and the Russian government of fraud and trying to sell an aircraft that does not work. Checkmate appears to be a desperate move to salvage something from all the money spent on developing the Su-57. The Su-75 is supposed to enter service in 2027. The Su-57 is still in service and officially entered service in 2020. Currently there are fewer than 20 of them available and the sanctions imposed because of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine have limited the ability of Russia to build as many Su-57s as was planned. That was supposed to be about 15 aircraft a year. The Su-57 has not been in combat, although it did briefly operate in Syria where the Israeli were able to track and monitor its performance, Israel concluded that the Su-57 was not very stealthy and did not appear to be capable of exceptional combat performance. That may explain why Su-57s have not been used in Ukraine, where Russia has not been able to achieve air superiority due to the many air defense systems NATO countries have sent Ukraine. So far the Ukrainians have been using older Russian combat aircraft, like the MiG-29 fighter and Su-34 fighter-bomber. These aircraft have been modified to use Western guided missiles and have done so successfully in combat. Russia has not sent any of its Su-35 fighters to Ukraine while Ukraine is about to receive F-16s. Ukrainian pilots believe the F-16s will be able to defeat the Su-35 and MiG-29 fighters and Russia is not eager to test that claim. The F-16 has an extensive and impressive combat record. The Russian fighters do not and want to take on the F-16, even with the Su-35 which was designed to defeat the F-16. That feature has never been tested in combat.

Despite this history, Russia is proceeding with development of its Su-75. This aircraft will come in one and two seat versions, with the two-seater used as a trainer or an electronic warfare aircraft. There were also plans for an unmanned version, without a cockpit, and thus cheaper to build. Russia already has the S-70, a UCAV (unmanned combat aircraft) in production. This stealthy, delta wing aircraft has already been tested accompanying manned fighters and production is underway.

Checkmate is shaped more like the American YF-23, the loser in the competition to select a stealth fighter design. The YF-22 won and in 1991 became the F-22. Only two YF-23s were built as development aircraft and given the amount of data obtained from defense industries by Russian hackers since then, that could have included detailed plans for the YF-23. Moreover, the two YF-23s eventually became museum aircraft and available for anyone to photograph. Over the years many details of the YF-23 performance were published.

Russia used a similar approach when the U.S. had two competing designs for a new ground attack aircraft. The YA-10 won out over the YA-9 in 1973 and entered service in 1976. Russia adopted the YA-9 design and their Su-25 entered service five years later. The Su-25 was successful and over 1,024 were built, compared to 713 A-10s. Both aircraft were popular with the ground troops and are still in use after undergoing several upgrades.

Checkmate saves a lot of time, effort and money adopting the YF-23 design. The Su-57 was an overall disappointment but many of its features were successful and these are apparently being incorporated into the Checkmate. In one respect Checkmate will not match the F-35 and that is the extensive software and data-fusion systems that all pilots report as remarkable and make the F-35 a truly unique aircraft, giving the pilot unique situational awareness of what is going on around him. The Russians have seen the Israelis F-35s in action and were impressed.

Despite all the tech Russia has available for Checkmate, they have much less money available to integrate it all into a new aircraft that will approach the F-35 in performance. Then again, Russia may just be trying to salvage what they can from their Su-57 debacle and find some satisfied export customers for their new Su-75, which is believed to be the official designation of Checkmate once it is flying in a few years. The Checkmate is expected to be a lot cheaper than the Su-57 and F-35 and, unlike the Su-57, deliver what was promised.

Turkey is aware of what the Su-57 has been through and the problem China is having developing its J-20 stealth fighter. Foreign aircraft manufacturers and air forces are looking forward to how the Turkish Kaan stealth fighter turns out. So are the many Moslem countries that Turkey plans to sell Kaan to. Turkey believes that Moslem nations would be interested in buying a stealth fighter developed by a Moslem nation. Turkey already has an impressive track record developing and exporting modern weapons. This includes armored combat vehicles as well as warships. Turkey believes it can succeed with Kaan as well.




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