No Stealth for You: What If Turkey Never Got the F-35 or the Su-57?

Mark Episkopos

Key point: Ankara needs stealth but may lose its F-35 deal. It could turn to Moscow, but the Su-57 doesn't fit its needs.

Russia’s Su-57 and Su-35S have touched down in Turkey for the upcoming Technofest 2019 festival, the latest in the Kremlin’s determined effort to sell Ankara its flagship fighter technology on the heels of the latter’s ejection from the F-35 program.

The Su-57 and Su-35S have emerged over the past several months as the clear frontrunners in Russia’s export pitch, but what do they have to offer the Turkish air force? There are several factors at play.

The Sukhoi Su-57 is Russia’s flagship fifth-generation stealth fighter. Emerging out of a tortured research and development process stemming back to the early 2000’s, the Su-57 has defied repeated proclamations of its demise--the first serial unit will be delivered by the end of this year, while 75 more are scheduled to be shipped over the coming decade. These are still relatively modest numbers, and intentionally so. Russia seeks to establish the Su-57 as a financially solvent platform through early, high-profile export contracts, proceeds from which will then be reinvested into a more cost-effective Su-57 production process. Russia’s defense industry has aggressively targeted Turkey as a ripe candidate for the Su-57, with Russian President Vladimir Putin even personally pitching the export version of the fighter-- the “Su-57E”-- to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the MAKS 2019 Airshow.

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