The Russian Knights air display team of the Russian Air and Space Force (VKS) has received four single-seat Sukhoi Su-35S multirole fighters. The delivery ceremony took place on Thursday, November 7, at the Kubinka air force base, the team’s home airfield.
The Russian defense ministry made a point that the Su-35S would supplement rather than replace the Su-30SM two-seaters that the Russian Knights have been operating for two years. Additionally, the ministry stressed that all of the aircraft in the team’s inventory were delivered in factory-standard configuration. Since the team's foundation in 1991 with the Su-27 and Su-27UB, the Russian Knights have never used specially-adapted machines, as many other display teams around the world do.
In the meantime, Ankara has acknowledged that it received a proposal concerning Su-35s. Ismail Demir, head of the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), told the NTV broadcaster on November 1, “There is an offer and we are evaluating it. There cannot be such a thing as ‘We’re buying tomorrow’ in such matters. The offer’s financial and strategic aspects will be examined; there cannot be an immediate decision."
At the same time, he and other officials insisted Ankara would prefer to stay with the F-35, provided that the U.S. reverses its earlier decision to eliminate Turkey from the program. “It would not be right to say that the F-35 era is closed [and] the Su-35 era is beginning,” Demir commented.
In the past month, Daily Sabah reported that Turkish and Russian officials were discussing details of the Russian offer for 36 Su-35s. The proposal was put on the table shortly after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan inspected a number of modern Russian combat jets on display at MAKS 2019. Soon after, Sergei Chemezov, general director at Rostec corporation, said he would be willing to sell Sukhoi jets to Turkey should the customer “express a desire” to buy them. Later, head of Federal Service of Military-Technical Cooperation (local acronym FSVTS) Dmitry Shugaev, mentioned “a progressive interaction in this area” between the Russians and the Turks. In September, a handful of VKS Su-35 and Su-30SM fighters took part in the six-day Teknofest Istanbul, Turkey's largest aerospace and technology event at the Atatürk Airport.
Reportedly, Ankara wants a deal to come with a work and offset package to involve local industry in aircraft manufacturing and to integrate locally designed and manufactured air-launched weapons. If the Su-35 deal is finalized, it will be Ankara’s second major purchase of a powerful weapons system from Moscow after that of the S-400 SAM worth $2.5 billion. Following the start of S-400 shipments, Washington removed Turkey from the F-35 project and threatened to impose economic sanctions. Washington argued that the S-400 would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose the F-35 to possible Russian subterfuge.
Meanwhile, the Russian MoD confirmed that shipments for two batteries of the defense missiles were completed ahead of schedule. Demir said that delivery of a second batch is likely to be postponed from a planned 2020 timeline, as the two sides continue discussions on technology-sharing and joint production. Offset, co-development, and joint-production arrangements are among Turkish preconditions to any follow-on S-400 purchases.