Just months after Turkey was removed from the F-35 program by the United States, the country is close to reaching a deal with Russia to purchase nearly 40 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets.
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In a move that is set to further tensions between the two nations, particularly between country heads President Donald Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it’s being reported that “a deal does not appear too distant” for Turkey to purchase the Russian-built jets.
Turkey turned to the Su-35 following the US’ decision to kick the country out of the F-35 program due to their purchasing of a Russian-built S-400 air defence system, which the White House said rendered Turkey’s “continued involvement with the F-35 impossible”.
“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities. The United States has been actively working with Turkey to provide air defence solutions to meet its legitimate air defence needs, and this administration has made multiple offers to move Turkey to the front of the line to receive the US PATRIOT air defence system,” a release from the White House said in July.
“Turkey has been a longstanding and trusted partner and NATO ally for over 65 years, but accepting the S-400 undermines the commitments all NATO allies made to each other to move away from Russian systems. This will have detrimental impacts on Turkish interoperability with the alliance.”
Turkey received the air defence system in August, and was originally committed to purchase 100 F-35s before they were removed from the program.
It’s being reported that Turkey is now eyeing up purchasing close to a squadron (48 units) of Su-35s, although that figure could indeed double, considering their intention to buy 100 F-35s.
How does the Su-35 stack up with the F-35?
The Su-35 is an advanced fourth-generation fighter jet (noting that the F-35 is fifth-generation), and is considered one of the premier fighter aircraft in the world due to its manoeuvrability. However, it had issues early in its life cycle in an attempt to match up to its US counterparts.
The single seat, twin-engine fighter technically first flew in 2008, but is a variant of the Su-27 and can have its roots traced back to the 80s.
A year after its first flight, the Russian Air Force officially purchased 48 of the aircraft during the MAKS Air Show in Moscow, with first delivery coming in May 2011 to Russia’s Defence Ministry.
However, the jet needed over two years of tweaking after Russia’s Air Force chief at the time, Alexander Zelin, said that the Su-35’s “avionics and integrated defence system is inferior to American fighters of the same type”.
Following years of testing, the Su-35s were handed over to Russia’s Air Force in December 2013 for operational service.
The Su-35’s strength lies in its “supermaneuverability”, including its ability to sustain supersonic speed without using afterburners, a feature known as “supercruise”.
The supercruise allows the aircraft to engage hostile jets at greater speeds and altitudes as well as increase the range of its long-range missiles by between an estimated 30-40 per cent.
Carlo Kopp in 2010 stated his belief that the supercruise ability, as well as a mature airframe and combination of advanced technology, would allows the Su-35 to achieve a “favourable exchange rate against the F-35”.
However, as this is based off information available before both aircraft even achieved full operational capability, it has to be taken with a grain of salt.
Recent tensions between Turkey and the United States
Turkey’s impending decision to purchase the Su-35 is set to further fuel the recent tensions between themselves and the United States.
While general friction between the two nations isn’t anything new, President Trump and President Erdogan have been sniping at each other for weeks since Turkey’s decision to invade north-eastern Syria, after the US withdrew troops from the region.
The latest disagreement between Trump and Erdogan comes as the latter has demanded the handing over of a Kurdish militian leader, Mazloum Abdi, whom Turkey considers a terrorist.
However, Trump tweeted out on the same day: “I really enjoyed my conversation with General @MazloumAbdi. He appreciates what we have done, and I appreciate what the Kurds have done. Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the Oil Region!”
Abdi is the leader of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who were instrumental in supporting the US in defeating ISIS in northern Syria.
How do you feel the US will react to Turkey’s decision to purchase the Su-35 aircraft? Do you think it’s justified, considering the US made the decision to remove Turkey from the F-35 program? And are you concerned with how the relationship between the two countries seems to be steadily declining?