Turkey's Air Force Has Stealth Fighter Dreams

David Axe

The United States in July 2019 kicked Turkey out of the multi-national effort to develop and build F-35 stealth fighters.

The Turkish government had insisted on buying Russian-made air-defense systems that U.S. officials claimed could gather sensitive data on the F-35, data that could make its way to Russia.

Ankara had planned to buy as many as 100 F-35s to equip its air force and potentially even fly from a new class of assault ships. Now Turkey is looking elsewhere for new fighters, all while rebuffing calls from former allies in the West to end its invasion of northern Syria.

“Offers are coming in,” embattled Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, according to broadcaster NTV.

But those offers might not include a radar-evading plane in the class of the F-35. There are just two stealth fighters besides the F-35 that are in production and in theory even are available for export. The Russian Su-57 and the Chinese J-20.

But Chinese officials apparently are not keen to ship the J-20 beyond China’s borders, much in the same way U.S. lawmakers passed a law barring the export of the U.S. Air Force’s F-22.

In 2014, Song Zhongping, a former officer in Beijing’s strategic missile force, told a Chinese T.V. program that Beijing had banned any export of the J-20 “in order to keep J-20’s fifth-generation technology out of hostile hands.”

Chinese firm Shenyang is developing, as a purely commercial venture with little or no government support, the lightweight FC-31 stealth fighter as a potential export commodity. But progress has been slow. It’s unlikely that Shenyang is taking orders for the plane.

That leaves the Su-57, Russia’s own answer to the F-22. Russian president Vladimir Putin in August 2019 showed Erdogan around Russia’s MAKS air show. The two leaders inspected a Su-57. "So now, we are going to buy this one?" Erdogan asked Putin.

"You could," Putin replied.

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