By Khalem Chapman
As Turkey continues to demonstrate the growing might of its domestic aerospace/defence industry, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TUSAŞ) – the nation’s largest aircraft manufacturer – publicly unveiled the first prototype of its new fifth-generation stealth fighter, the Milli Muharip Uçak (MMU; National Combat Aircraft) during a ceremony in Ankara on May 1.
Designed to meet the operational requirements of the Turkish Air Force (TuAF) from 2030 to 2070, the MMU – which is more commonly known as the TF-X – will be Turkey’s first indigenously developed fifth-generation multi-role fighter. Launched as a development programme on December 15, 2010, the single-seat, twin-engine TF-X will primarily serve as an all-weather air superiority fighter that will boast secondary ground attack capabilities.
In total, eight TF-X prototypes will be manufactured by TUSAŞ – which is the prime contractor for the MMU programme – with production and final assembly taking place at the company’s new MMU Assembly and Test Building Block A (otherwise known as the MMU Hangar); the construction of which was completed in March 2022. TUSAŞ started assembling the first TF-X prototype at the MMU Hangar on April 30, 2022, and the Development Test Aircraft (abbreviated as GTU in Turkish and also called ‘Prototype 0’ or ‘P0’) was moved to the final assembly line on November 21.
On January 11, 2023, TUSAŞ held a Defense Industry Press Conference at the Kahramankazan Campus in Ankara, where officials unveiled the GTU/P0 prototype at the MMU Hangar to the defence/aerospace media representatives in attendance. The GTU/P0 prototype performed its first engine run-up test – equipped with two GE Aviation F110-GE-129E afterburning turbofan engines – at the Outdoor Engine Test Field (which is located next to the MMU Hangar) on February 21, 2023; marking the official start of ground trials. During the May 1 unveiling of the first TF-X prototype, the official name of the fifth-generation fighter was announced as ‘Kaan’ – a masculine given name and surname of Turkic origin that means ‘ruler’ or ‘King of Kings’.
Over the course of the TF-X programme, new capabilities and equipment will be added to the ‘Kaan’ under a ‘block development approach’ and with each new block, the ratio of locally developed content included will increase. The Block 0, Block 10 (2029) and Block 20 (2032) will be powered by F110-GE-129E turbofans, with the Block 30-standard (2035) set to receive the fighter’s true fifth-generation capabilities following the addition of two indigenously developed 35,000lbf-class afterburning turbofan engines that feature stealthy exhaust nozzles to further optimise its low-observable qualities.
With plans to perform its maiden flight in 2033 before it is inducted into operational TuAF service from 2035, the Block 30 ‘Kaan’ will be capable of performing the type’s full suite of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. It will also feature the most local content share of the four initial blocks, thanks to the addition of the new indigenously developed turbofan engines, subsystems and avionics.
According to Temel Kotil, President and CEO of TUSAŞ, the first seven TF-X prototypes will each be powered by two F110-GE-129E engines, with the eighth aircraft set to be fitted with the yet to be selected indigenously developed turbofan. In July 2022, Turkey’s Defence Industry Agency published an invitation to tender for the domestic development of this powerplant.
TUSAŞ has previously announced that deliveries of the first batch of 20 TF-X aircraft will be completed in 2034. Over time, the firm will gain the capability to manufacture two ‘Kaans’ per month and a total of 24 aircraft per year.