Turkish government officials said on Monday that a deal between Turkey and Russia to purchase up to 48 Russian-made Su-35 fighter planes is near. Photo courtesy of Russian Defense ministry
Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Turkey is nearing the purchase of between 36 and 48 Su-35 fighter planes from Russia, Turkish government sources confirmed.
The figure of 48 planes would comprise two squadrons of the plane, and would complement the S-400 missile defense system that Turkey, a NATO member, purchased from Russia earlier this year and delivered in August.
The plane and missile system are part of a cooperative engagement capability in which the Su-35s would act as airborne radar to guide the S-400's missiles as they engage enemy aircraft or missiles. Data from the S-400's ground based radars could also serve an Su-35 pilot, since the S-400's strongest capability is networking with other systems, including fighter planes and the Russian-made Pantsir low-level air defense system.
Turkey was suspended from purchasing, and manufacturing parts for, the U.S.-made F-35 fighter plane after the S-400 purchase.
The United States argued that the S-400 and the F-35 are incompatible, and that secrets of the F-35 could be exposed to Russia. Turkey responded with an assurance that the S-400 would not be integrated into its NATO systems.
The Su-35, introduced in 2014, is regarded as Russia's most advanced fighter plane. A next-generation upgrade, the Su-57, is unlikely to be mass-produced in the next decade.
Since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited an air show in Moscow in August and saw demonstrations of the Su-35 and Su-57, there have been a number of contacts between both sides.
Moscow loaned Turkey the funding to purchase the S-400 system for $2.5 billion. It could pay up to $70 million per plane if a deal is struck.
Turkey is also planning to construct its own fighter plane, known as the TF-X, but a working prototype is several years away and Turkey is seeking a stopgap to replace its aging fleet of U.S.-made F-4 and F-16 planes.
A potential issue, should Turkey purchase the Russian planes, involves ammunition. The F-4s and F-16s are equipped with NATO- and U.S.-standard weapons, and ammunition for weapons aboard the Su-35s would likely be purchased from Russia.