Can Türkiye’s unmanned Kizilelma outmanoeuvre F-35s and Su-57s?

The initial reviews from experts suggest that Kizilelma has the potential to steer the Turkish fighter jet technology to enter the 6th generation class, surpassing countries like the US and Russia.

For Türkiye’s Wright Brothers – Selcuk and Haluk Bayraktar – building some of the world’s most efficient drones is just another day at the office. From the combat-proven Bayraktar TB2 that has changed the course of several recent conflicts to the Akinci and TB3, the Bayraktar brothers have put Türkiye’s indigenous technology among the world’s best in the field of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs).

But the best is yet to come.

Early next year, the company is set to carry out the first test flight of its most ambitious project, the Kizilelma – an unmanned, jet-powered, supersonic aircraft that will incorporate stealth features, making it extremely hard to detect by radars.

While Türkiye’s 5th generation aircraft tentatively named TF-X is a major milestone in the manned fighter jet category, Bayraktar Kizilelma is another technological marvel, setting the bar even higher in the unmanned aircraft sector. Its stealth features, 1500+ kg payload capacity, 0.9 Mach speed, for the first type called Kizilelma-A, and turbo-prop engines differentiate it from other drones. Türkiye-based defence analyst Muhammad Walid argues that Bayraktar Kizilelma could potentially take over the duties of US-made F-16s and pose a great threat to enemy’s fighters.

“Instead of buying another F-16, Türkiye can purchase as many as four Kizilelma drones – for the same and drive them into enemy’s airspace,” Walid says.  Besides, he says, the Kizilelma’s stealth features and ability to fly at the height of 55,000 feet will give it air superiority and enable it to operate deep inside enemy territory.

The first prototype of Kizilelma was exhibited recently at Teknofest, one of the world’s largest aerospace and technology festivals in Türkiye’s northern province of Samsun.

Giving details about the new jet, Selcuk Bayraktar said that the Kizilelma’s uniqueness lies in its cutting-edge technology that will make the aircraft as powerful as some of the best in the business.

The Kizilelma’s specs could make the fighter a 6th generation jet, leapfrogging it over 4th generation fighters like F-16, F-15, Rafale, Gripen, SU-35, and the Eurofighter and the 5th generation fighters like F-35 (US), SU-57 (Russia) and J-20 (China).  Walid argues that it will be even beyond a 6th generation aircraft.

He adds that Kizilelma’s twin engines, or a larger single engine, will bring the drone to the level of a conventional jet in terms of power generation. This means that with already available specs and to-be added ones, it will be a 6th generation aircraft when larger powerhouses are mounted.

Therefore, Baykar Technology seems to have undertaken the mission of bringing the Turkish aircraft industry to the level of developed countries or maybe even one step ahead of them. The experts say this is an achievable goal when the Kizilelma is compared with competing UCAVs.

For example, the British defence company BAE Systems developed a few types of UCAVs but was only successful in flying the Taranis model. Although Taranis took to the skies for the first time in 2013, there has only been one prototype produced, and it will enter service after the year 2030.

Long before any other nation, US businesses started to create UCAVs with jet engines, but they do not currently have any operational combat drones with the same specs as Kizilelma. The Northrop Grumman X47 drone, which comes in three variations,  A, B, and C, was the most noticeable model. Although the X47-A programme was terminated in 2006, it was replaced by X47-B and then X47-C. There are just two X47-B drones designed for demonstration purposes out of all the variations. The future of the programme has not yet been decided.

Boeing also entered the contest with its Phantom Ray and MQ-28 unmanned vehicles, but only the latter is expected to enter service after 2025, thanks to the collaboration with the Australian army. Lockheed Martin intended to enter the UCAV market with its brand new Polecat model, but the project was short-lived due to a crash during its first flight.

France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland are involved with French company Dassault’s nEUROn project to gain experience in designing and building high-end (U)CAVs.  Another company EADS, owner of Airbus, brought Germany and Spain together to build the Barracuda drone.

Both nEUROn and Barracuda have been developed for post-4th generation jets, but the process seems to be moving quite slowly. On the other hand, Russia has got into competition with the Suhkoi S-70 Okhotnik-B, which will reportedly have an 8000 kg payload capacity. But given that the Russian army buys low-tech Iranian UCAVs due to the Russia-made variants’ bad performance, starting from a higher phase is hardly possible.

Drones similar to Kizilelma have not yet been introduced in other nations with established reputations in the UCAV industry, such as Israel and China.

By all indications, Baykar will likely begin serial production before others, which will result in (1) more experience, (2) more technological expertise, (3) cheaper prices, (4) a larger market share and (5) enable Türkiye to catch up to other nations at the sixth-generation phase.

The overall progress the country has made in its indigenous fighter jet programme suggests that Ankara is gradually but surely weaning the Turkish defence sector from its dependence on imports from other countries.

Source: TRT World

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