Turkey didn’t get the F-35, but its new fifth-gen jet just took its first flight

A screen grab captured from a video shared by Haluk Gorgun, President of Defense Industries in his social media accounts shows Turkish fighter jet KAAN conducting maiden flight in Ankara, Turkiye on February 21, 2024.
Turkish Defence Industry Agency/Anadolu via Getty Images

  • Turkey first domestic fighter jet completed its maiden flight on Wednesday.
  • A new video shows the jet’s flight, which lasted 13 minutes. 
  • Turkey was previously part of the F-35 program but was expelled.

Turkey’s first domestically made fighter jet successfully completed its maiden flight, and a new video captured the moment for the new fifth-generation aircraft.

It’s a major step forward for Turkey’s efforts to acquire a fifth-generation fighter. The country was previously kicked out of the US-led F-35 program in 2019 as a consequence for purchasing S-400 air-defense systems from Russia.

Turkish Aerospace Industries confirmed Wednesday that the plane, Kaan, had completed its first flight. And a video shared on social media showed the jet’s takeoff, flight, and landing at Akinci air base.

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Turkish Aerospace Industries CEO Temel Kotil said the flight took 13 minutes and the aircraft reached an altitude of 8,000 feet.

Kaan is the result of well over a decade of effort from the Turkish Air Force, which prioritized developing domestically made combat aircraft beginning in December 2010. Turkey’s aim is to field fifth-generation fighter jets that will eventually replace the country’s F-16 fleet.

Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan posted Wednesday that his country had cleared a “very critical stage on the way to producing its own fifth-generation warplane,” noting that the aircraft will inspire confidence in friends and strike fear in enemies.

Wednesday’s flight heralds a promising step forward for Turkey, especially after it was expelled from the US-led F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

The decision followed the country’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system. US officials characterized the weapon as a “Russian intelligence collection platform,” that could gather data on and threaten F-35s in development.

“Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible,” a 2019 White House statement said, noting that “the F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities.”

An F-35 Lightning II streaks across the sky while doing maneuvers to the Eglin Air Force Base runway.
US Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.

A key concern was the F-35’s stealth. “Much of the F-35′s strength lies in its stealth capabilities, so the ability to detect those capabilities would jeopardize the long term security of the F-35 program. We seek only to protect the long term security of the F-35 program,” a senior Defense Department official said on the expulsion of Turkey, a NATO ally, from the program.

Turkey provided significant funding and support for the development of the F-35, planning to buy 100 F-35As. Upon kicking Turkey out of the program, the US said it would prevent any jets from being moved to Turkey and promptly removed all Turkish personnel associated with the program.

The decision to go with the S-400 at the expense of losing access to the F-35 cost the Turkish economy around $9 billion over the life of the program, a Pentagon official said previously.

It remains unclear whether or not Turkey will be able to rejoin the program in the future should it return the S-400s, but the country, if the Kaan’s maiden flight on Wednesday is something to judge by, appears to be making progress on its own homegrown fifth-generation fighter. Fielding this advanced capability, however, will likely still be years away though.

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