Ankara is currently mulling its options for a 5th Generation jet for its Air Force after the United States (US) refused to sell F-35 jets in response to the purchase of the Russian S-400 air-defense systems. Turkey has the option of purchasing the Russian SU-57 jets. The other option, Turkey’s domestic fighter jet TF-X (Turkish Fighter – Experimental), is still a pipe dream.
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
As a participant since 2002, Turkey has been hot and cold about its role in the international consortium that built the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Turkey demanded a larger Workshare which would enable it to gain experience and be able to fly its own jet at a later date. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is one of the international supplier to Northrop Grumman, which produces the F-35 center fuselages. Ankara wanted TAI to license produce F-35 for Turkish requirement of 116-120 jets. In 2011, Ankara developed a cold feet on the program after the friction with US over Israel and the US delaying the shipment of F-16 parts. Turkey demanded the software codes for F-35 and wanted an enhanced work share, which could bring down the production costs of the jet. In 2014 and 2015, Turkey placed order for two and four jets respectively, but the delivery was delayed due to technical issues. The first jet was finally delivered to Turkey for training at Luke Air Force Base for pilot training. The same month saw the US Senate blocking the transfer of the jet to with a legislation. The US was concerned over Turkey’s intent to purchase the Russian S-400 air defence system, which the US alleged that it puts the secrets of the F-35 at risk. In July 2019, the US formally removed Turkey from the program. The manufacturing contract with TAI will remain till the end of the contract in 2022.
The Turkish concept of fifth generation TF-X stealth twin-engine all-weather air superiority fighter is planned to replace F-16 Fighting Falcons of the Turkish Air Force and to be exported. The jet is proposed by TAI with partnership with BAE Systems. The engine is proposed to be developed by ASELSAN along with Eurojet, TRMotor Power Systems Inc along with Rolls-Royce (Rolls-Royce has now withdrawn) and TUSAS Engine Industries which is the local partner of GE engine. The United Engine Corporation of Russia has also offered to provide the technology for the engine.
TF-X is proposed to fly by 2025 but this may hit a snag due to the US sanctions against Turkey. The western companies have stakes in the US market and may have to withdraw if the US demands. Turkey had also considered joining the Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) KAI KF-X (Boramae), the joint South Korean and Indonesian multirole fighter aircraft development program, but backed out due to work share issues.
Russian Su-57 FGFA (and Su-35)
In 2019, speculations arose that Turkey may possibly purchase the Russian SU-35 fighter after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Moscow on August 27. During his visit to MAKS-2019 air show together with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Erdoğan showed interest in Sukhoi fighter jets. The Russian director for Military Technical Cooperation Dmitry Shugayev stated on November 17 that Russia would consider selling the Su-57’s to Turkey only after the Russian initial demands for the fifth generation fighter jets are met. On October 22, he said that it was too early to speak about contract negotiations on Russian Su-35 and Su-57 deliveries to Turkey but consultations were underway. On October 29, the Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar put an end to the speculation that his country planned to buy Russian Su-35 fighter jets.
On March 12, 2020, the spokesperson for Russia’s Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation Valeria Reshetnikova stated that Russia is ready for holding negotiations with Turkey on the possible delivery of Su-35 and Su-57 fighter aircraft, if it receives the corresponding request. “As for Ankara’s potential plans of purchasing Russian Su-35 and Su-57 fighters, it should be noted that the Turkish side has been informed about their technical specifications in full. If there is a request from Turkey for these planes, we are ready for negotiations on this issue,” the spokesperson was quoted on TASS.
Turkey is trying to resolve its issues with the US. But in the case of failed talks in the future, the Russian Su-57 may be the only choice available for Turkey which will further antagonize the US.