a real prospect or vain hopes?

Turkish KAAN planes for Ukraine: a real prospect or futile hopes?

“We will not only buy, but also use. We also know where to use it.” These are the words spoken by the Ambassador of Ukraine in Istanbul, Vasyl Bodnar, on CNN Türk. Considering the fact that the TAI TF KAAN aircraft is not due to be presented in its finished form until 2028, this is quite a bold statement. What are the prospects for the purchase of these not yet completed fighters, whether Ukraine will join their creation and what kind of aircraft it is – let’s try to figure it out.

History of the KAAN project

Understanding the history of this project, and especially regarding the development of the engine, is important to understand the prospects of the Ukrainian manufacturers that have been announced.

The TAI TF Kaan, formerly known as the TF-X, alternatively known as the TF (“Turkish Fighter”), or the Turkish MMU (Milli Muharip Uçak, National Combat Aircraft), is a radar-stealth, twin-engine, air-to-air fighter being developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI and BAE Systems as its subcontractor. The aircraft should eventually replace the F-16s, which Turkey, on the contrary, is currently trying to acquire, as well as modernize the existing ones. Ground tests of the fighter prototype began on March 16, 2023. The first flight of the aircraft was scheduled for December 27, 2023. but postponed to a later date.


The decision to design, develop and manufacture a national fighter of the next generation was made by Turkey on December 15, 2010. The purpose of the aircraft was to replace the F-16 and work together as part of the armed forces along with other models such as the F-35 Lightning II.

In 2015, TAI presented three potential configurations of the airframe: twin-engine like the Lockheed Martin F-22, single-engine like the F-16, and a configuration similar to the Saab JAS 39 Gripen. The two-engine configuration received the support of the Turkish government. In 2016, a request for proposals for the creation of an aircraft engine was published, to which General Electric, Eurojet and Snecma responded. According to the request, the engine infrastructure should be developed in Turkey and production would remain in the country for as long as possible.

Aircraft requirements

In June 2021, the Turkish Air Force announced its minimum TF-X capability requirements in a press presentation:

  • Improved aerodynamics and traction
  • Super cruise
  • Sufficient optimized combat radius
  • Advanced and internal multispectral sensors (EW and RF/IR)
  • Low detectability
  • Interaction of sensors and autonomy
  • Improved data transfer capabilities for network warfare
  • High-precision weapons of confrontation

Preliminary characteristics of TAI

Crew One or two pilots
length 21 m
Wingspan 14 m
Height 6 m
Wing area 60 m2
Maximum take-off weight maximum take-off weight 27,215 kg

2 × General Electric F110-GE-129 Turbofan, thrust 76.31 kN, 131 kN with afterburner

maximum speed Mach 1.8

Competition for the engine

Back in December 2015, Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defense Industry announced that British company BAE Systems had been selected to help develop the nation’s next-generation fighter jet. On the same day, Rolls-Royce offered technology for the EJ200 engine and joint development. During the visit of British Prime Minister Theresa May to Turkey in January 2017, representatives of BAE Systems and TAI signed an agreement on engineering assistance in the development.

On January 20, 2015, the Turkish defense concern ASELSAN announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Eurojet, the manufacturer of the EJ200 engine used in the Eurofighter Typhoon, for the use of this engine in the project. The companies announced cooperation and joint development of engine management software systems and engine maintenance monitoring systems.


In May 2017, Rolls-Royce formed a joint venture with Turkey’s Kale Group to develop and manufacture engines for the project. Another competitor in this is TRMotor Power Systems, founded in April 2017 by BMC, TAI and SSTEK. On November 8, 2018, TRMotor signed a memorandum of understanding with the Defense Industry Board to develop a jet engine for the project.

While General Electric has not openly expressed interest in the TF-X project, its Turkish partner Tusaş Engine Industries (TEI) has announced that it will participate in the engine’s development phase. On June 11, 2018, TEI’s general manager said that they have offered a mature engine for which they have completed a commercial proposal for a compressor component test infrastructure. TEI has committed to transfer all intellectual rights to the government. In October 2018, Turkish media reported that an unknown number of initial production fighters would be powered by General Electric F110 engines until the Turkish Air Engine Company (TAEC) completed work on its own engine.

On 14 March 2022, Kale and Rolls-Royce resumed engine development for the TF-X program, stating that previous disputes between the companies had been resolved and that the first prototypes would use the F110 engine.


Meanwhile, on March 5, 2022, Turkey’s Deputy Minister of Defense Industry said in a television interview that the government will now discuss a possible engine deal with Rolls-Royce.

On July 2, 2022, the Defense Industry Agency published an invitation to tender for engine development. TRMotor, which is a subsidiary of TAI, submitted its bid, as did the Turkish Air Engine Company (TAEC) and the Kale Group and Rolls-Royce consortium.

“It is very important for us that the engine is produced in Turkey…Turkey should have intellectual property rights,” Ismail Demir, Turkey’s deputy minister of defense industry.

It was this position that became the main stumbling block in the customer’s relations with Rolls-Royce and other companies.

Start of production

On November 4, 2021, the first prototype of the aircraft was produced. The first flight was planned for 2025, but it was later moved to the end of 2023, then postponed again.

In May 2023, at an air show in Turkey, Temel Kotil, CEO of TAI, warned that the price of the aircraft could be slightly higher than his 2021 promise of $100 million per unit. TAI is expected to deliver twenty aircraft to the Turkish Air Force in 2028, with plans to increase the delivery rate to two aircraft per month by 2029.


In July 2023, at the 16th International Defense Industry Fair, a protocol agreement was signed on the involvement of Azerbaijan in the project, with the beginning of the identification of Azerbaijani companies and production facilities that can be used. Azerbaijan’s participation will also bring new capital to advance the project after the producer raised concerns about rising costs in May 2023. During the history of the project, the Swedish SAAB withdrew from it, in 2018, Russia showed interest.

While the prototypes and the first batch of aircraft will be equipped with General Electric F110 engines, until the production of the TAEC engine, a joint venture between Turkey’s Kale and Britain’s Rolls-Royce, is ready. Ismail Demir also stated that in addition to these two engines, an alternative option from an unnamed country is being considered.

Prospects of Ukraine in the project. Will we buy KAAN?

As you can see, the history of the aircraft engine is extremely complicated. It includes Turkey’s demands for localization of production and intellectual property, as well as a large number of powerful competitors, one of which is already equipped with engines on prototypes and planned for the first batch. Therefore, despite the encouraging words of the Turkish deputy minister about the “unnamed country”, it will be a tough fight for Ukraine. This is what Ambassador Vasyl Bodnar answered to the question regarding the participation of Ukrainian companies in the tender mentioned above (translated from Turkish):

Yes, there is a consortium of Ukrainian companies competing with other manufacturers for this engine. But Ukraine has experience and a good partner reputation, we can quickly produce equipment with the characteristics that are very necessary for this aircraft. Such cooperation will also bring a lot of profit to the Turkish side. Because having your own production based on new technologies is progress not only in strengthening security and defense, but also in the ability to compete in the markets. I believe that the Kaan can reach its full potential to compete with the F35 and F22, and this is the story of the future.”

Regarding the purchase of aircraft, it is difficult to say anything with certainty several years before such an opportunity. There is a war going on in Ukraine, and stormy political processes are also going on around it. Therefore, it seems more like a wish than a concrete plan. On the one hand, it will be easier to implement in cooperation with Turkey on the production of the aircraft, on the other hand, almost complete Turkish intellectual property of this weapon may impose some restrictions on Ukraine’s actions in the future.

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