The Turkish minister of Defense denied media reports that the country was about to acquire around forty Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets to replace the hundred F-35A aircraft it expected before being evicted from the Joint Strike Fighter program.
In 2017, Turkey decided to acquire the S-400 Triumph missile system from Russia, a contract valued at $2.5 billion. But the United States was concerned that integrating the S-400 and the F-35 in the same system could compromise sensitive information regarding the aircraft, and thus requested for the order to be scrapped.
After Turkey proceeded with the acquisition, the country was officially removed from the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program on July 18, 2019. Consequently, it saw its order of 100 F-35A due to equip the Turkish Air Force compromised and has been reportedly looking for an alternative ever since.
A day after the country was evicted, the Russian government through the Rostec state corporation offered its Sukhoi Su-35 as an alternative, and on October 15, 2019, President Tayyip Erdogan confirmed receiving multiple offers to replace the F-35, including both the Su-35 and the more recent Su-57. Another Russian acquisition would undoubtedly increase tensions within NATO, already polarized over the S-400 and the recent Turkish offensive in Syria.
Earlier this month, the Turkish publication Daily Sabah reported that Moscow and Ankara were close to concluding a contract for the supply of 36 Su-35 fighter jets, citing Turkish military sources, who also added that a possible industrial involvement from Turkey “in the production of some components of the fighter jets, including its precision weapons and ammunition” was also being considered.
The information was later confirmed by Defense News, whose source in the Turkish Defense Minister said that “a deal does not appear to be too distant”, mentioning this time an order for 48 fighter jets. It claims that Turkey expects a loan from Russia to conclude the order, as it was already the case with the S-400. Another condition would be a transfer of technology to contribute to Turkey’s own 5th generation fighter aircraft project, the TF-X.
But on October 29, 2019, Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar denied the reports. “The allegations that Turkey will receive the Su-35 are not true”, Akar said, quoted by the local media Haberler. He reminded that “Turkey remains a partner in the F-35 program, and we want our rights to be respected”.
Indeed, Turkey should participate until March 2020 in the Joint Strike Fighter program. “Turkey still makes 900 parts for the F-35,” said Ellen Lord, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, earlier this month. After this date, the country will be completely evicted. The loss of Turkey’s participation was estimated to cost $9 billion over the life of the program.