Turkey to consider Russian-made fighter jets, should U.S. cancel F-35 deal

April 19, 2019

Turkish defense officials are already weighing the possibility of adding Russian-made advanced fighter jets into their arsenal, should the U.S. ultimately scrap planned sales of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Ankara.

While a series of “technological, economical and political deliberations” would have to take place among senior Turkish military brass before such a move could take place, Russian-made alternatives to the F-35 would be at the top of Ankara’s list of potential replacements, Turkish officials say.

“We cannot afford to leave the F-35 [program] not substituted,” a senior Turkish defense official told Defense News on Friday. “Russian fighter technology would the first best choice if our American allies behaved in an un-allied way and questioned Turkey’s membership in the Joint Strike Fighter program,” the official added.

Recent reports claim Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed potential Russian alternatives to the F-35 during a recent diplomatic visit to the Kremlin earlier this month.

Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu said Ankara would look to Russia and others to fill its fighter jet requirements if the U.S. pulls the plug on the F-35 sale.

“There are also aircraft manufactured in Russia,” he said in an interview with Turkish news outlet NTV, days after Mr. Erdogan’s visit to Moscow. “If we are not able to purchase [the] F-35, Turkey will buy similar aircraft from other countries. And this will continue until we start producing our own fifth-generation fighter jets

Having Turkey, a NATO member, procure and deploy Russian military hardware as part of its armed forces would be an unprecedented move by a member of the alliance since its inception during the Cold War. But Ankara’s efforts to field Russia’s S-400 missile system is roiling already strained relations between Turkey, the U.S. and its NATO partners.

U.S. and NATO officials fear the mixing of the Russian missile system and the American-made F-35 could give Moscow critical intelligence on the new jet’s capabilities and features.

Acting Pentagon spokesman Charles Summers told reporters earlier this month that the Pentagon is ready to pull the plug on sales of nearly 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Turkey.

“If they get the S-400, the F-35 will not go forward,” Mr. Summers said.