IDEF’19: Su-57 May Provide Turkey with an F-35 Alternative

 - May 7, 2019, 3:45 AM
Once cleared for export, the stealthy Su-57 fighter could meet Turkey's fifth-generation fighter needs instead of the F-35. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

All documents necessary to arrange shipments of the Sukhoi Su-57 to would-be foreign customers have been prepared, and export clearance for this fifth-generation fighter can be expected soon. “The Su-57 has a high export potential,” according to Russian minister for industry and trade Denis Manturov. Broadcast last month, his words inspired several potential customers, notably in Beijing and Ankara, who have reportedly approached Moscow for details. Information was given at IDEF’2019 in Istanbul, a show that saw a large Russian contingent and a number of high-ranking guests.

Speaking to local media, the head of the Rostec state corporation—Russia’s defense industry giant controlling hundreds of OEMs—said that Moscow is ready to supply Ankara with fifth-generation fighters, provided that Turkey files such a request. In broader terms, Sergei Chemezov said: “In case the Turkish side files a request about the production localization or technology transfer [of a particular weapon system], we will consider it with joy. The rest is to do with negotiated solutions to be found during bilateral talks.” He added that documents permitting Su-57 exports are on the path to validation. Moscow is also interested in cooperating with Ankara on advanced anti-aircraft systems such as the S-500, in particular, should Ankara express an interest in becoming a partner in the development of this next-generation surface-to-air missile (SAM) system.

Although the S-500 is still in development, it is meant to become the mainstay of Russia’s air defense system following induction in 2019-2020. It is described as “a most advanced SAM system that has no equal in the rest of the world.” Chermezov said, "Both nations can contribute to this project.”

In his turn, head of the Rosoboronexport arms export agency Aleksandr Mikheyev, told reporters that Ankara has expressed interest in a number of Russian systems, including anti-tank missiles and medium-range SAMs. “There are several projects already in the works,” he stated, including streamlining and localizing maintenance of both in-service equipment and that soon to be delivered. Additionally, Russia and Turkey are putting together projects under which they will work jointly on “aviation and helicopter complexes.” According to Moscow, Russo-Turkish relations are built on a mutually beneficial basis, which makes them immune to foreign interference.

Turkey and Russia seem to be actively seeking areas of mutual interest in arms trade, joint development, and production, following Turkish president Recep Erdogan’s visit to Moscow on April 8. At a press conference that day, Russian president Vladimir Putin said that talks involved weapons sales—not only of the S-400 but “also other ongoing and prospective projects in the sphere of military-technical cooperation.” Agreed in 2017, the $2.5 billion S-400 deal should result in deliveries of Fakel 40N6 missiles later this summer. To facilitate the sale, Russia has provided a loan covering 55 percent of the contract sum. Erdogan calls the S-400 “a done deal” and adds that the purchase of such advanced systems is a sovereign right of Turkey and that the nation will not compromise it.

In the meantime, Washington wants Ankara to stop its arms trade with Moscow, threatening economic sanctions and refusal to supply F-35 Lightning II fighters. Turkey received an initial pair of F-35s in June 2018, and another two earlier this year. Turkish air force pilots have been undergoing training at Luke AFB in Arizona in anticipation of redeploying their new jets in November to Malatya in Turkey. Local industry has been involved in the development and production of F-35 components under the Joint Offensive Aircraft Project: Alp Aviation provides bodywork and landing gear, and ASELSAN has developed electro-optical targeting systems and air intervention controls. Ayesaş supplies the missile remote control interface and panoramic cockpit imaging system, and Fokker Elma produces electrical cabling and internal connection systems. Havelsan provides training systems, while Kale Aviation produces structural parts, connectors and landing gear locking systems.