MAKS 2019: Turkish President Erdoğan Inspects Su-57, Considers Alternatives to F-35

 - August 29, 2019, 9:37 AM
Russian president Vladimir Putin (center) inspects the Su-57 cockpit with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (center right) and their defense ministers at the MAKS 2019 show. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Ankara is considering buying Sukhoi jets and using Russian expertise in aerospace to complete its national aviation projects following the U.S. decision to eject Turkey from the F-35 program in the wake of S-400 SAM shipments earlier this summer. At Vladimir Putin’s invitation, Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the MAKS 2019 airshow on August 27 to inspect aircraft on display there.

He was shown the Su-57, Su-35, Su-30SM, and MiG-35 fighters; the MC-21 jetliner, Be-200 amphibian, and Mi-38, Ka-62, and Ansat Aurus helicopters on the static display. The two presidents continued with an inspection of the CR929 widebody cabin mockup and watched an aerial performance opened by a formation of four Su-57s. Other hot items in the air on opening day included the Mi-28UB “short-nose” helicopter and MC-21, both making their show debuts.

Erdoğan became the first foreign leader to inspect the Su-57, which he did with defense minister Hulusi Akar and other members of his entourage. Their guides on the tour were Putin, Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu, and United Aircraft CEO Yuri Slyusar. Surrounded by selected media members, he asked Putin whether Turkey can buy the Su-57 and received an affirmative answer. On several interactions with the press on August 27 and 28, Erdoğan said, “We came here for more than just a sightseeing tour. We will make steps after learning about the final decision [from Washington on the F-35]. The market where Turkey can acquire everything it needs is large enough." On another occasion, he said, “We want to proceed with the solidarity [with Russia] in many areas of the defense industry. This can be on passenger or fighter aircraft. We will continue with the spirit of solidarity.”

In his turn, Putin said that Turkish pilots are invited to undertake familiarization and evaluation flights in the Su-30SM. This type is a two-seat multirole fighter, as opposed to the Su-57 and Su-35 that are available only in single-seat versions. “When discussing combat aviation, we spoke of cooperation on the Su-35 and also about some possible work even on our newest Su-57. There are many other opportunities…and so we have also shown [the Turks] our modern combat systems as well as electronic warfare equipment. In my view, our Turkish partners are interested in many things, not only to buy but also to produce jointly. We are ready to cooperate in certain directions.”

Su-57s in flight
Two Su-57s cavort in the skies over Zhukhovsky during the MAKS show. Four of the fighters performed during the airshow's opening day. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

On Wednesday the head of Russia’s Federal Service for military-technical cooperation with foreign countries, Dmitry Shugayev, confirmed Turkey's interest in procurement of “either the Su-35 or Su-57.” Clarifying Ankara’s viewpoint, foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey would prefer to search for alternatives to the F-35 but would look for a new source to procure combat jets if the U.S. cancels F-35 shipments.

Russia’s minister for industry and trade, Denis Manturov, added that preparations for Su-57 serial production at Sukhoi’s KnAAPO plant in Komsomolsk-upon-Amur have been ongoing for several years and are about to be completed. Capacity is sufficient for the timely fulfillment of the Russian defense order for 76 placed at ARMY 2019. He further stressed that KnAAPO will assemble the Su-57 in parallel with the Su-35. An initial batch will rely on the existing AL-41 engines that will subsequently be replaced by next-generation “item 30” engines that have been in flight test since December 2017. Deliveries with these engines are expected to start in 2023. The Su-57 has passed flight tests using air-launched munitions carried in the inner weapon bays. According to the Tactical Missile Corporation, development of new weapons for the Su-57 is proceeding on schedule and, among other types, the fighter can fire the R-37M long-range air-to-air missile.