Turkey’s new 'unmanned fighter' steps closer to first flight after ground test success

Turkish defence company, Baykar, has marked a significant milestone in the development of its Bayraktar Kizilelma unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) after the initial prototype successfully completed its first Automatic Taxi and Running Test at the Akinci Flight Training and Test Center in Tekirdağ, Turkey, on November 20.

The completion of this latest development milestone comes just over two months after the platform successfully conducted its first engine integration test on September 19. Having been transferred to the Akinci Flight Training and Test Center earlier in the week, the initial prototype completed a number of Automatic Taxi Tests with safety ties before carrying out the platform’s first Automatic Taxi and Running Test without safety ties on November 20. By completing these respective tests successfully, the Bayraktar Kizilelma is now one step closer to performing the platform’s first flight, which is scheduled to take place before the end of this year.

Baykar's first Bayraktar Kizilelma prototype carries out the type's first Automatic Taxi and Running Test at the Akinci Flight Training and Test Center in Tekirdağ, Turkey, on November 20, 2022.
Baykar's first Bayraktar Kizilelma prototype carries out the type's first Automatic Taxi and Running Test at the Akinci Flight Training and Test Center in Tekirdağ, Turkey, on November 20, 2022. Baykar

A privately owned Turkish company that specialises in UAVs; command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I systems and artificial intelligence (AI), Baykar is actively developing the Kizilelma – a jet-powered, low-observable, supersonic carrier-capable UCAV (described by the firm as an unmanned fighter) – under Turkey’s Project MIUS (Muharip İnsansız Uçak Sistemi; Combatant Unmanned Aircraft System). While the initial prototypes are powered by a single Ivchenko-Progress AI-25TLT non-afterburning turbofan engine, limiting the aircraft to subsonic speeds, later prototypes are expected to be fitted with the Ukrainian engine manufacturer’s AI-322F afterburning turbofan. However, it remains unclear whether the delivery of these engines will be affected by Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine.

One unique aspect of the Kizilelma’s design is the fact that it will also be capable of shipborne operations. Baykar claims that the platform “will revolutionise the battlefield with its landing and take-off capability, especially for ships with short runways.” The UCAV has been specifically designed to operate from the Turkish Navy’s new amphibious assault ship, TCG Anadolu (L-400), which is currently conducting cruise testing. Combined with its supersonic and maritime capabilities, the Kizilelma has also been designed with low radar visibility in mind and will be equipped with an indigenously developed active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar to enhance the platform’s overall situational awareness.

The type is expected to enter operational service with both the Turkish Air Force and the Turkish Navy. When operational, the type will be largely used to carry out air-to-air combat missions in a similar manner to manned fighter aircraft, with Baykar stating that the UCAV will be capable of performing “aggressive manoeuvres” – a capability that is not found on more traditional UAVs. The platform will also be equipped with domestically developed air-to-air munitions, along with an electronic warfare pod; a signals intelligence (SIGINT) module and Aselsan’s Common Aperture Targeting System. It will also have an ability to be fitted with an array of indigenous rockets, mortars and air-to-ground/surface missiles for combat operations against land- and water-based targets.

According to official data shared by Baykar, the Kizilelma has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 13,227lb (6,000kg), of which 3,306lb (1,500kg) will be available for the payload. The platform will also boast a service ceiling of 45,000ft (14,000m) and a mission endurance of between five and six hours.