The Russian ‘Trojan Horse’ in the US: This is the Fighter that Can Ruin the F-35 Program

Can you imagine some NATO maneuvers with North American and European airplanes and that, suddenly, Russian fighter jets appeared, new and almost with their best technology?

Well, this image could take place if Turkey continues with its plans to acquire a new fighter plane in the Russian market.

The political and defense consequences of this decision could be very serious and upset the entire structure of the Alliance.

And it is that the Turkish Government is not only thinking of taking a Russian plane, it is that it is considering changing the controversial American F-35 for the Sukhoi 35, its great rival.

Starting with the origin of everything, few times in the history of military aviation we find a plane as controversial as it has been and is the F-35.

Its production costs, its problems and the political issues that have been woven around it have put this model in the trigger.

The F-35, remember, was born as a joint program for a modern fighter jet, the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter), of which the United States was a leading partner and a number of countries associated with the program.

Among these partners was Turkey. So what has made the situation change so much? Well, the reasons are several.

The reality is that Turkey was a member of the F-35, its investment in the program now reached 1,000 million (according to Turkish sources) and was destined to begin receiving the first of its 116 copies of the Alfa model for its air force.

But the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system arrived and everything changed.

Turkey decided to acquire the most modern missile system that Russia had active, the S-400, a system with very good characteristics that is said to have been designed to be able to bring down even the best American stealth (invisible) aircraft, among them the F-35.

This amazing acquisition of first-class Russian weapons was the first time it happened with a NATO country.

Turkey argued in its day (two years ago) that the purchase was made due to the strategic need to provide an anti-aircraft system that the United States did not provide, but the answer did not add up and that is where the Patriot (acquired by Spain) was for example ).

The reality could be more related to the attention given by the United States (weapons and training) to Kurdish militias fighting in Syria against the Daesh.

For one reason or another, the truth is that the US could not allow Russia to deploy its S-400 missiles while, at the same time, the F-35s flew there. It would have been very easy for Russia to collect radar data from its missile system on the F-35.

Knowing how visible a plane is to radar is one of the most sensitive and secret data of the American plane.

The result was that Turkey, not giving up Russian missiles, pushed out of the F-35 program and ran out of its fifth-generation aircraft to replace its F-16s.

The Turkish F-16, even being modernized and with good capabilities, cannot sustain the air power that Turkey intends to maintain in the medium term.

But this serious disagreement with the US closed much of the market for a NATO partner accustomed (so far) to handling American material.

Then, after the sale of the initial batteries of the S-400 and a proposed second batch, Russia saw a golden opportunity to place its products in a country that is also a NATO partner, so a diplomatic approach began.

Turkey needs a new fighter plane and Russia now has two very powerful aircraft: the fifth-generation Su-57 (PAK FA) and the Su-35.

The latter is a proven aircraft, of good characteristics, although of the so-called “almost fifth generation”.

In all likelihood, the Su-35 would not be the first or the best option for Turkey , as it looks for a plane that replaces the F-35 and, therefore, would like some fifth generation.

For the government and the Turkish air force the best option could be the Su-57, the latest and most modern Russian development of the fifth generation aircraft, with ‘stealth’ characteristics and, in theory, all the benefits of ultramodern fighters.

Turkey has set its sights on the modern Russian plane and could become the first outside user of this promising aircraft in the future, but there are some drawbacks and, paradoxically, the price is not the greatest of them.

The PAK FA is also a very expensive plane and each copy could leave for a price close to 80 million dollars.

The problem of the Russian plane is its slow development and the constant problems with its power plant.

It is precisely because of the engines that the Su-57 does not finish taking off. The propellants that have been used so far in the prototypes, called T-50, were derived from engines in service with benefits far inferior to those used by US aircraft such as the F-22.

It will not be until the entire new power plant is developed based on the new Ob’jekt 30 engines, that the Su-57 demonstrates all its capabilities.

However, it may not be considered a mature product until the end of the next decade.

Turkey cannot wait until the age of Su-57 comes of age and while maintaining interest in that plane, it is contemplating other solutions that could go through the Su-35, the best Russian fighter plane of those that have been tested.

This interest in both planes of the Sukhoi factory materialized in the last visit of the Turkish president to Moscow.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Moscow on August 27 and attended the MAKS-2019 aerospace event.

The MAKS is a fair of Russian aeronautics and space equivalent, for example, to the French Le Bourget Salon or the British Farnborough, where the main developments in these matters are usually exhibited.

When both presidents, Erdogan and Vladimir Putin attended the fair, the Turkish leader expressed interest in the Sukhoi company fighter plane.

After that, he didn’t rule out buying Su-35 and Su-57 instead of the American F-35, with a laconic “why not.”

The Su-35 (Flanker E) can be a very good option for Turkey as a short-term solution. It is a development made from the design of the Su-27, the ‘Flanker’ that caused a sensation in the West.

Its design is very similar to that of its predecessors and, therefore, remains a very large plane with 22 meters long and more than 15 wingspan.

It weighs 25,300 kg with half of its fuel, while its maximum takeoff weight is 35,000 kg. Its engines are two Saturn AL-41F1S that provide a unit thrust of almost 20,000 pounds without afterburning.

Comparatively, for example, the Eurofighter is much smaller (16 meters long and 11 meters wide), its maximum weight is 23,500 kg and its engines give a thrust of 13,500 pounds each without post-combustion.

The Russian plane has very good characteristics and a good part of its technology is the one that is being used in the development of the Su-57. For example, it has a very modern digital cockpit (‘Glass Cockpit’) based on two large multifunction displays or MFD.

It has information sensors integrated in the helmet of the pilot and a good AESA type radar antenna Irbis-E model, very good performance.

It incorporates nozzles of vectorized thrust, something that provides significant maneuverability and also has the F-22, although it is not available for the Eurofighter.

It also incorporates a new OEPS-27 type optoelectronic sighting system on the radar cone, IRST sensor (Infrared Search and Tracking) and a small tail radar that would act as an alert radar.

On the contrary, the older design of the Su-35 weighs against it. Its radar signature is relatively high and thus its RCS (‘Radar Cross Section’) or equivalent reflected surface, is around 2 square meters.

It seems little, especially if we think of the magnificent work that was done in this field from the Su-27 cell (whose RCS was more than 20 m2) thanks to the use in certain parts of the RAM fuselage, absorbent materials of radar, but the RCS of a Eurofighter is at 0.5m2 and that of an F-35 at 0.005 m2.

However, for Turkey the acquisition of the Su-35 should be considered as a short-term measure.

In fact, the Undersecretary of Defense Industries of Turkey, Ismail Demir, said a few days ago that the Su-35 could be an interim solution: “There is an offer and it is being evaluated.”

This possible situation would be corroborated by the fact that there would be interest in acquiring a reduced number of copies, only 48 that would equip two squadrons, somewhat distant from the more than 100 F-35 planned.

However, Demir also claimed that the F-35 was not yet a closed matter and “everything was possible.”

Everything indicates that it will be difficult to fix that issue when the purchase of the S-400 is consolidated, although on the other hand there would also be a lot of interest in the F-35B, the only alternative (same as for Spain) to provide its new LHD vessel identical to the Spanish Juan Carlos I and that is being built in Turkey with Navantia engineering.

If the Turkish F-35 definitely fails, its new ship will run out of airplanes.