Erdogan needs 5th generation fighters, and that could link Turkey to Russia

This post was published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.


MOSCOW, (BM) – The political and armed confrontation in the Middle East is on the way of escalation, pushing the largest states of the region to build up their arsenal of armies. This means that the likelihood of Turkey buying Russian fifth-generation fighters is significantly increasing. If, of course, the proposal made by the Russian president publicly almost a year ago remains in force.

Then Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, together with his “dear friend” Vladimir Putin, opened the MAKS-2019 aerospace salon. Together they walked along the line of aircraft exhibited at the “presidential site”. The best examples of products of the domestic aviation industry were presented there, including fighters of the “4+” generation of the Su-30SM, Su-35S and MiG-35S types.

But the Turkish guests stayed for a long time at the next generation car; detailed explanations on the Su-57E were given by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, and the then head of the Sukhoi company Igor Ozar.

To this day, Erdogan remains the only foreign head of state who was lucky enough to personally inspect a fifth-generation Russian fighter jet and see its demonstration flights. However, so far he has not ordered a single “drying”, which, perhaps, now regrets, given the sharp aggravation of the situation in Libya. And it began on July 20, when the Egyptian parliament unanimously approved the President’s request to use the armed forces abroad.

The fact is that in the event that the Egyptian army enters Libya, it will face the Turkish troops already there at the invitation of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. And here’s a coincidence: a couple of days after the fateful session of parliament, photographs of brand new Su-35Ss appeared on the World Wide Web in a color typical for the Egyptian Air Force, although without the applied state signs.

The inclusion of such fighters in the arsenal of the Arab Republic will significantly increase its ability to conduct warfare in the air. If it comes to a large-scale conflict in northern Africa, the Arab pilots will easily deal with any potential enemy on the “dry land”, since the Su-35S is much newer and technically superior to all types of aircraft of the Turkish Air Force front-line aviation.

Our machine is an order of magnitude superior to them in the detection range by means of radar and electro-optics. This gives the pilot the opportunity to impose a battle on favorable terms for himself, building the attack in such a way as to be the first to launch the missiles and leave the interaction zone before the enemy has time to recover. The only question is how soon the Egyptian Air Force personnel will master the latest Russian aircraft and how deeply they will be able to master the skills for its competent use.

Repetition is the mother of the teaching

In the summer of this year, the situation of two years ago was repeated, only instead of the Su-35S then it was about the MiG-29M. The fighters, built by order of the Egyptian military department (contract in 2015), accidentally hit the lenses of aviation enthusiasts’ cameras while flying as part of factory tests.

The photographs posted on the Internet captured the planes landing at one of the airfields near Moscow. They were completely painted in characteristic colors, but without identification marks. On the keels were only the numbers of the side number. And only after the appearance of “MiGs” at Egyptian air bases, their planes were decorated with tricolor circles and flags.

A month ago, the Egyptian President visited military units in the west of the country, ordering them to prepare to cross the state border. Among the reasons, Abdul-Fatah al-Sisi named the ongoing offensive of the PNS units on the opposing Libyan National Army (LNA). The head of the Egyptian state warned: in the event of the capture of the city of Sirte and the Jufra airbase, the PNC troops will cross the “red line” established by Cairo. The transition of these points will radically change the balance of power in the civil war, which categorically does not suit a number of states, such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Diplomacy reinforced by airbreak

Attempts to settle the dispute by means of diplomacy failed: the leaders of the PNS reject the very idea of ​​reconciliation with the leader of the LNA, Field Marshal Haftar. It was not possible to bring the main parties to the Libyan conflict to the negotiating table, neither by words, nor by a demonstration air strike on the recently captured Vatia airbase on the night of July 5, as a result of which the Turkish air defense systems stationed there were destroyed.

Putting aside peace initiatives, Egyptian President Sisi appealed to parliament for permission to send troops to Libya. The 152nd article of the Constitution on the protection of the national security of the state was cited as a justification. The people’s representatives unanimously gave the go-ahead. Now, after the July 20 vote, the Egyptian leadership has a free hand, and it can at any time order the troops to move to the West. Cairo has already announced its readiness to help the “tribes of Libya” (read: LNA) in the fight against foreign interference (read: Turkey).

However, Sisi hesitates with the invasion and, perhaps, will make the final decision only after gaining full confidence in the victorious nature of the war with the Turks. And for this, certain conditions must emerge, including events in the line of military-technical cooperation and in the line of negotiations with allied states on military, financial and logistic support.

Among the Arab countries, Egypt has the largest armed forces. In terms of the number of personnel and equipment, they are close to the Turkish, and in a number of positions they even surpass. The main issue is the combat effectiveness of the army, which has not carried out major military operations since the 1973 war with Israel. Are Egyptian soldiers and officers ready to shed blood, and even in a foreign land?

If the troops suffer losses and falter, the already difficult internal situation in the country will worsen. The Muslim Brotherhood movement banned in the country (as well as in Russia, Saudi Arabia and other states) will once again raise its head. There is no doubt that it will receive help and support from the Islamists who have settled in both Tripoli and Ankara, where the Justice and Development Party, which is close to its “brothers” in spirit, rules. This is why Sisi has taken so long to persuade the participants in the Libyan conflict to compromise, pushing them to peace negotiations over and over again.

Technical questions

An equally important issue is related to the accumulation of the necessary forces and means. If a war over Libya breaks out between Turkey and Egypt, aviation will play a large, and possibly decisive role. Potential adversaries have a comparable number of combat aircraft, but a significant part of the Egyptian aircraft fleet is outdated morally and physically. This applies primarily to the French Mirages 5, the Soviet MiG-21 and their Chinese clones (up to 100 units in total).

As part of the rearmament program, the Egyptian units received 250 fourth-generation fighters F-16 and Mirage-2000 (including fifty two-seater combat trainers), contracts for 24 Raphael and fifty MiG-29M are nearing completion.

Su-35 change power layout

Built and trained to NATO standards, the Turkish Air Force stands out for its harmony and uniformity. Fighter squadrons were re-equipped with F-16s (270 aircraft), and the remaining F-4 Phantom (about 50 units) are used as shock. The interaction of combat groups with air tankers, reconnaissance aircraft, radar patrol, electronic warfare, etc. is well developed. In a word, Turkish aviation is a serious threat. That is why it is so important for the Egyptians to wait for the arrival of the newest Su-35S.

Removing the obsolete Phantoms from consideration, we see that neither Turkey nor Egypt has heavy fighters. With the Su-35S, Cairo gains a significant advantage. With proper use of “drying” will bring down the Turkish “air bridge” to Libya and significantly complicate the conditions of sea transportation.

In the absence of land communication between Turkey and Libya, this means that the Turkish expeditionary group will not receive a sufficient number of reinforcements, ammunition, provisions, etc. Egypt is not constrained by geography and can send a huge land army into a neighboring country, thereby ensuring its victory.

The arrival of the Su-35S, expected by the Egyptians, clearly shows that Turkey came to African soil with aircraft not adapted for a big air battle with Arab countries. The only type of fourth-generation fighter in its arsenal is the American F-16. But it is a light class, and heavy vehicles with an increased flight range would be much better suited to protect the air and sea bridge in Libya. After all, the sea route from Misrata to the nearest Turkish port is about 1400 km.

Arguments for Su-57E

Su-30s or Su-35s can be used to protect such transport arteries, but Ankara will never buy them. The reason is simple: the Su-30MKA is already in service with Algeria, and the Su-35S is about to appear in Egypt. Under these conditions, proud Turks are unlikely to approve of the acquisition of those types of aircraft that already have their Arab neighbors. “The East is a delicate matter,” said Comrade Sukhov.

Considerations of prestige and national pride bring the Su-57E to the fore. Moreover, at MAKS-2019, Erdogan asked Putin in the presence of journalists: is this plane for sale and can Turkey buy it? The answer was positive. Since this car has not been shown to any of the distinguished foreign guests since then, Ankara actually received an exclusive offer. In a word, the Turkish partners have been given an honor, and this is an obligation.

The second argument “for” is providing access to high Russian technologies to create your own fighter. As you know, the Turkish aviation industry has already developed and launched into series attack drones, training and combat training versions of the Hürkuş turboprop aircraft, and is currently working on a fighter of its own TF-X project. The full-scale mock-up of the car was first exhibited last summer at the international exhibition in Paris, and the first flight of the prototype is planned for 2025. The project is estimated to require about $ 50 billion in investments; the delivery of commercial products is scheduled for 2029.

Political considerations

Implementation of the TF-X project will require tremendous effort and will take many years. And most likely it will stretch for decades, as happened with the Indian fighter LCA Tejas (the beginning of the design – 1987, the introduction into service – 2015). The latter is all the more likely in the context of increasing sanctions pressure on Turkey from the NATO partner countries. The reasons are different, but the essence is the same: the West does not like the current course in foreign and domestic policy pursued by the ruling Justice and Development Party.

Berlin suspended all military supplies to Turkey, and Washington refused to transfer even already built and flown samples of the fifth generation F-35 Lighting II fighters. According to a July 21 Pentagon press release, the US Air Force signed a $ 861.7 million contract with Lockheed Martin by purchasing eight production F-35A “Turkish modification” aircraft from the manufacturer and agreeing to take six more as they become available. As you know, Ankara planned to purchase 100 such fighters, but last year the deal was banned by congressmen due to the purchase of S-400 air defense systems in Russia by Turkey.

For some time, the top political leadership of Turkey hoped to find a mutually acceptable solution to all problems in relations with the United States, which would open the way for the resumption of cooperation on the F-35A. However, Washington was not ready to search for solutions on the path of dialogue and taking into account the interests of the partner country, trying to talk with the Turks in the language of ultimatums. By now, Ankara has come to terms with the idea that neither fighters (F-35A), nor drones (MQ-1 Predator), nor multiple launch rocket systems (M270A1), nor any other more or less modern American-made weapons will never again not receive.

This means that a radical decision is brewing – to go for closer cooperation in the military-technical field with Russia. It seems that a logical step in this direction will be negotiations on the purchase of the Su-57E in order to replace the outdated Phantoms and keep the class of heavy fighters in the Turkish Air Force. In addition, some of the technologies and components of the Russian aircraft can be applied to the TF-X and thereby bring this most ambitious defense project of national importance out of the inevitable stupor that is brewing as conflicts with the West grow.


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