Just a week after Turkey signed a deal to add Azerbaijan to its fifth-generation fighter jet program, a senior Turkish official suggested Pakistan could join in as well.

“Very soon, within this month, we will be discussing with our Pakistani counterparts to officially include Pakistan in our national fighter jet program, KAAN,” Deputy Defense Minister Celal Sami Tufekci announced on Friday.

The agreement with Azerbaijan came about last week during the International Defense Industry Fair, or IDEF 2023, held in Istanbul. It was a move that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described as a “new sign of solidarity between the two countries.”

While the Pakistani government does not appear to have commented publicly on its possible listing, and a representative of the Pakistani air force did not immediately respond to Breaking Defense’s request for comment, experts said working with other countries will speed up the listing process. development for the ambitious KAAN project and reduce risks in Turkey.

“Developing a fifth-generation fighter aircraft is a complex and expensive undertaking that requires a wide range of expertise and resources. Collaboration with other countries allows Turkey to pool resources and technological know-how from participating nations and spread the financial burden, resulting in a more advanced and capable aircraft,” said Mohammed Soliman, Director of the Strategic Technologies and Cyber ​​Security Program at Middle East.

Turkey has revealed an ambitious timetable for the fighter, including a first flight scheduled for the end of December, although experts said it could be a decade or more before the plane is operational.

“We have a period of [more than 10] years ahead of us, and there is no guarantee that this process will end smoothly and on time,” Turkish defense and aerospace expert Cem Dogut said.

Soliman also said that the timeline seemed “challenging.”

“Integrating various technologies, ensuring security, conducting extensive testing, and obtaining the necessary certifications are time-consuming processes. While Turkey’s schedule is ambitious, it is not uncommon for such projects to experience delays due to unforeseen technical or logistical challenges.”

According to Dogut, the assembly of the first KAAN prototype began in April 2022 and was presented in January 2023 to defense figures and the media. He added that the prototype carried out its first engine test run with F110-GE-129E turbofan engines on February 21, 2023. In May 2023, Turkey presented the KAAN aircraft, and Erdogan himself climbed into the cockpit for a test session.

will Pakistan also join Turkey's 5th generation fighter program?
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the unveiling ceremony of the KAAN national fighter jet on May 1, 2023 in Ankara.

“KAAN’s CDR [critical design review] phase has not been completed yet. There will be a big difference between the [prototype aircraft], which will make its maiden flight by the end of the year, and the Block 10, which will go into mass production,” Dogut said.

He stressed that since the development phase of KAAN, whose design is not yet finalized, the support of the countries that will join the project continues to be important. Dogut stressed that the program has a long process ahead, and Turkey needs all kinds of cooperation and support.

He said Azerbaijan’s contribution to aircraft production could include financial investments and possible industrial collaboration.

Soliman added that if Pakistan “joins the program, it could contribute its own resources, technology and manufacturing capabilities.”

Dogut also said that Turkey has a different relationship with Azerbaijan and Pakistan than with many other countries.

“They are seen as sister countries rather than as friends and allies. The perspective of both countries towards Turkey is similar to that of Türkiye. Azerbaijan’s main contribution will be to help financially support the project. Pakistan will support the production and development part of the business,” Dogut said.

He added that unlike Azerbaijan, Pakistan has experience in production and development in aviation.

Dogut said a potential drawback to involving Pakistan in the program was Islamabad’s close relationship with China, which could create an “information security risk” for the KAAN project and potentially limit the use of parts from dubious Western producers. .

The search for the F-16 lives on 

Development of the KAAN fighter, primarily by Turkish Aerospace Industries, would presumably ease the burden of having to procure foreign fighters, such as Turkey’s long-running search for upgraded US F-16 fighters.

But Dogut said KAAN is unlikely to change those plans anytime soon, as the fighter isn’t expected to be combat-ready until the mid-2030s at least, and it won’t come cheap, potentially up to $14 billion. dollars the program.

He added that increasing the capacity of the existing F-16 fleet, with the Viper modernization with the US or the Ozgur domestic modernization project, and the purchase of additional aircraft will always be on the table until the KAAN is operational. After KAAN wins IOC/FOC, existing F-16s will remain in service for many years.

“It will take decades to produce KAAN and…serve in fleets,” Dogut said.

In his opinion, Soliman considered that Turkey’s decision to phase out other aircraft such as the F-16 after the KAAN becomes operational depends on several factors.

“The F-16 has different roles and capabilities than a fifth-generation aircraft like the KAAN. Operational needs, strategic considerations, and military interoperability with the US alliance and NATO will likely influence the decision. Turkey could continue to use a mix of aircraft to fill different roles within its defense strategy even after the KAAN becomes operational,” he concluded.

Agnes Helou