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​Ukrainian Military Aviation Could Get 5th Generation Fighter Jet in 2030s

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Turkish KAAN combat aircraft
Turkish KAAN combat aircraft

The discourse regarding the future of Ukrainian military aviation was significantly revived in February 2024

It was due to reports of the possible transfer of the Mirage 2000D in the future and the recent comments of the Ambassador of Ukraine to Turkey, Vasyl Bodnar, in an interview to CNN Türk. There, the diplomat announced Ukraine's intention to purchase the newest Turkish 5th generation fighter jet of the KAAN. The generally accepted opinion on the future of the Air Force, where the only fighter is the F-16, is no longer so sustainable due to the new, interesting opportunities.

Before considering the current and promising options for fighters for the Ukrainian Air Force, it is worth highlighting the levels of Ukraine’s needs. The first level is any obsolete aircraft (MiG-21, F-4, F-5). This is the level of support for basic capabilities, for example, in the case of Ukraine loses aviation altogether, it would be better to have obsolete aircraft than nothing at all.

Read more: The First Photo of F-16 Aircraft with Ukrainian Insignia Appears, Making russians Nervous

The second level is the level of support for existing capabilities. This includes the transfer of Eastern European MiG-29s. The hypothetical transfer of American A-10 attack aircraft can also be attributed there, since in the conditions of a positional war they will not be able to reveal their potential and will not add new capabilities compared to those of the Soviet Su-25.

Ukrainian Su-24M aircraft with SCALP-EG missiles, Defense Express
Ukrainian Su-24M aircraft with SCALP-EG missiles / Photo credit: ArmyInform

The third level is the level of a certain increase in capabilities, which can be attributed to the acquisition of old Western fighters with modern weapons: Danish and Dutch F-16MLU or Australian decommissioned F/A-18A. On the current stage that Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is now approaching, to receiving the F-16 from Europe. In addition, the option of Sweden transferring its JAS-39C Gripen should also be considering. The Gripen option becomes realistic after Sweden joins NATO. At least in Stockholm, such a possibility was studied.

The first photo of F-16 aircraft with Ukrainian insignia, Defense Express
The first photo of F-16 aircraft with Ukrainian insignia / Photo credit: Voice of America

And the fourth level is the level of advanced capabilities that will allow, at least, to achieve parity with the enemy. This includes the newest fighters: F-16V, Rafale, Typhoon, F-15EX, F-35, KF-21, KAAN.

The Turkish 5th generation fighter KAAN has not yet made its first flight. According to the latest information, it is expected in March of this year. Passing tests, concluding a contract, setting up export production will take a long time. Presumably, if Ukraine does purchase a Turkish aircraft, the Air Force will receive it, approximately, only in 2028-2030. The purchase of KAAN does not negate Ukraine’s need for decommissioned Western aircraft, which can be obtained as soon as possible. However, it is quite interesting that the ambassador's comment regarding the KAAN s was made against the background of the cancellation of Putin's visit to Turkey. Moreover, only recently Nuland voiced a proposal to Turkey to abandon the Russian S-400 air defense systems. All this, as well as the work of the Turks on the Baykar plant in Ukraine - unwanted scimitars in the back of Putin's international and domestic image on the eve of the elections.

Turkey’s national combat aircraft TF-X which is named KAAN , Defense Express
Turkey’s national combat aircraft TF-X which is named KAAN / Photo credit: @IsmailDemirSSB

However, the Turkish KAAN is not the only option of a modern fighter of the 5th or the 4++ generation for Ukrainian Air Force, and the interest in it from the side of the military has not yet been reported. Presumably, the future fleet of Ukrainian combat aviation will eventually consist of F-16s, French Mirages (as a replacement for Su-24 bombers), in which the Air Force has reported interest, and new modern fighters, the same KAAN s. In addition, KAAN will be able to work in coordination with the Kızılelma unmanned fighter from the Baykar company, which will probably be assembled with other Bayraktars at a plant near Kyiv. That is, according to the above classification, the capabilities of Ukrainian aviation will not only be strengthened, but also brought to a high level in accordance with the dangerous threats that aviators of Ukraine have to face in the sky.

French Mirage 2000D attack aircraft, Defense Express
French Mirage 2000D attack aircraft / Illustrative photo credit: Armée de l'Air

It can be argued that the contours of the future of Ukraine’s Air Force are emerging, and they will look as follows: F-16s, which will replace the Soviet Su-27 and MiG-29, French fighter-bombers Mirage 2000D, which will replace the Su-24 in the role of carriers of cruise missiles, fighters 5th generation KAAN and Kızılelma unmanned fighters. Although in this form, Ukrainian aviation will most likely not survive the current war, but it will be ready for a new aggression at a decent, modern military-technical level. The air force, which Putin and his generals destroyed in three hours, was not only survived and continued to fight, but also began to transform into a modern, powerful force with the biggest combat experience on the continent.

Kizilelma jet fighter UAV by Baykar Defense equipped with a Ukrainian-made AI-25TLT by Motor-Sich during its maiden flight on December 14, 2022 , Defense Express
Kizilelma jet fighter UAV by Baykar Defense equipped with a Ukrainian-made AI-25TLT by Motor-Sich during its maiden flight on December 14, 2022 / Photo credit: Selçuk Bayraktar, Chief technology officer of Baykar Makina
Read more: ​Ukrainian Companies Ready to Provide Turkish Fighters with Engines