The Turkish pioneering drone maker has announced its unmanned fighter jet had successfully completed ground tests, as the landmark project inches closer to performing its maiden flight in the coming days.
Named Kızılelma, the National Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle System (MIUS) completed its first runway run and autonomous taxiing test at an air base in northwestern Tekirdağ province, according to a video shared by its developer Baykar on Sunday.
The test was overseen by Baykar’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Selçuk Bayraktar.
The fast drone fighter jet Kızılelma is said to represent a significant expansion of capabilities for slow-moving reconnaissance and missile-carrying drones.
It will be capable of taking off from and landing on short-runway aircraft carriers, including Türkiye’s flagship-to-be amphibious assault ship TCG Anadolu (L-400), which is expected to enter service next month.
This feature is said to help extend Türkiye’s drone capabilities from land-based to naval operations.
The Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) type ship, TCG Anadolu (L-400) is said to be the first of its kind in the world as a vessel that allows the landing of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) on its dock.
The autonomously maneuvering Kızılelma will be capable of operating in tandem with piloted aircraft, and may carry air-to-air missiles, the company said.
The unmanned fighter jet is projected to conduct a multitude of military actions, such as strategic offensives, Close Air Support (CAS), missile offensives, Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) and Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (DEAD).
Baykar last year signed a contract with Ivchenko-Progress, one of the leading Ukrainian manufacturers, for the procurement of engines for the MIUS. Ivchenko-Progress was projected to supply the AI-322F Turbofan engine for the jet under the agreement.
The aircraft is set to feature a high operational altitude and takeoff weight of 5,500 kilograms (12,125 pounds). It is envisaged to carry 1.5 tons of useful payload.
It is projected to be capable of flying for five hours and reaching speeds of up to 800 kph (500 mph or Mach 0.64).
Baykar is the company behind the drones that earned fame for their critical role in several conflicts. Its Bayraktar TB2 UCAVs have been credited with helping tip the balance of conflicts in Libya, Syria, Karabakh and lastly Ukraine.
The drones proved to be instrumental in the country’s defense against armor and anti-aircraft systems in the first few weeks of the Russian invasion.
The battle-proven TB2 is being sold to 24 countries including NATO member Poland, while the company signed deals with five countries for exports of its much larger sibling Akıncı, dubbed the most advanced and sophisticated drone built by Türkiye.
While the TB2 can lift off with up to 150 kilograms/331 lbs. of missiles or equipment, Akıncı, first delivered to Turkish armed forces last year, can fly much higher and take off with 10 times the weight.
It is also working on TB3, a short-runway-capable version of the TB2. The new drone is expected to finish its testing phase by the end of 2023, according to the company’s officials.
Last year, Baykar made up a fifth of Türkiye’s $3.2 billion in defense exports, according to data from the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TIM).
The expanding order book is expected to net around $1 billion in export revenues this year, Baykar CEO Haluk Bayraktar said last month, about 50% higher than last year’s $650 million, with a further 50% growth expected in 2023.