Su-57 Turkish Air Force
On 06 March 2023, several sources at once reported that Turkey could abandon the American fourth-generation F-16 fighters. Turkish Security Council member Chagry Erhan stressed that the decision was influenced by recent earthquakes, as well as the high cost of the US request for F-16s. He suggested paying attention to European, Russian and Chinese aircraft. As the politician noted, Ankara made a mistake by asking Washington for F-16s, which are outdated and uncompetitive compared to other aircraft.
At full capacity, Turkey's participation in the project to create a promising fifth-generation fighter began in 2007. Representatives of the country signed a memorandum on participation in the F-35 production program - and things got off the ground. This was followed by an agreement on the supply of 100 fighters, followed by contracts. In total, Turkey ordered 50 F-35A aircraft as of 2018. The export version of the F-35 costs almost $220 million. The United States received an advance, but then misunderstandings began.
"Turkey participated in these programs, she pledged money there. They were promised that they would receive the aircraft, and they even had localized production of some parts for the F-35. After Turkey bought the S-400 air defense system from Russia, they were deprived of all this. First, the contract was suspended, and then expelled from the program. As a result, Turkey suffered direct losses,” Russian military expert Alexei Leonkov noted.
Soon, Washington offered Ankara to buy F-16 fighters. In January 2021, The Wall Street Journal wrote that the Biden administration would seek congressional approval for the supply of 40 aircraft and 79 fighter upgrade kits. But this story dragged on. At the end of January 2023, Recep Tayyip Erdogan reminded reporters that Turkey had never received either F-35s or money for them ($1.4 billion) from the United States. In addition, on February 3, a group of US senators demanded that Biden delay the sale of F-16s to Turkey. In general, the story boils down to the fact that the US and NATO are trying to put pressure on Ankara, pushing for certain political decisions.
According Leonkov, seeking US supplies of F-16s and making a compromise is a thankless task, and no one is going to fulfill Turkey’s demands to supply something for which money was paid. "The F-16 is morally obsolete. The upgrades it has gone through do not make it any more successful as the technical limit has been reached. Everything is exhausted by the fact that the F-16 has only one engine and its capabilities are very limited," said Leonkov.
The maximum speed of the F-16 is 2178 km / h at an altitude of 12,200 m. The volume of fuel tanks is 3986 liters. It is armed with surface-to-air and air-to-surface guided missiles, as well as guided and free-falling bombs.
A member of the Council for Security and Foreign Policy under the President of Turkey Chagry Erhan also said that Turkey is disappointed with the behavior of the United States. "Turkey had expectations from the program. Now there are other options, such as a Chinese aircraft that was sold to Pakistan, Russian aircraft, as well as a Eurofighter fighter", said Erhan.
There is no exact information about which models of Russian and Chinese aircraft are being considered by the Turkish side. It is assumed that China can provide Chengdu J-10 fighters. Turkey can buy Su-35 generation 4++ or Su-30 fighters from Russia. Back in 2019, Erdogan allowed this option.
According to Leonkov, the Su-35 and other Russian vehicles have a number of advantages. They are superior to the F-16 in maneuverability and close combat, as well as in terms of protection against the impact of precision weapons. Leonkov noted that the F-16 appeared at about the same time as the MiG-29 and Su-27, but if the Russian cars were constantly evolving, the American remained the same for a long time as it was from the very beginning.
"The Su-35 (and the MiG-35) have much more opportunities - both for modernization and in terms of equipment that they can additionally hang on themselves. The same electronic warfare systems, weapons systems, plus the number of suspension points - more than the F-16,"- said military expert Alexei Leonkov. The Su-35 has 12 of them - four more than the F-16. Of course, comparing two fighters of different classes is a thankless task, but in real battles that require high automation, the Russian Su-35 still has no equal even among fifth-generation fighters.
As for the European Eurofighter Typhoon and the Chinese Chengdu J-10, according to experts, they are also not inferior to the F-16, and in some moments even surpass them. However, in this pair, only one aircraft is worth considering for purchase - the Chinese Chengdu J-10. Turkey will probably also not be able to get a European Eurofighter Typhoon due to US pressure on the European Union, and it will not be possible to exchange Turkish goods in bulk (in this case, oil, gas and other resources) for fighters.
According to some reports, the price of one F-16 is about $60 million. One Eurofighter Typhoon will cost $125 million. The export price of Chengdu J-10 is $40 million per unit. The cost of the Russian Su-35 fighter is about $80 million. Ankara planned to spend about $20 billion on the purchase of F-16 fighters, and it would be more reasonable if this money goes to the Russian defense industry. This money can be used to purchase about 250 Su-35 fighters, sets of airfield equipment and maintenance packages for several years to come.
Perhaps in February 2023, the Turkish government put together all the points on the current situation and did not see the prospects for the F-16 program. In addition, now participation in the program can affect the ratings of power. “It is pointless to invest in a program that does not bring dividends, especially at a time when Turkey has suffered such losses from earthquakes. If Turkey had continued to do something about the F-16, then the Turkish government would not have found support among the people. In addition, they have elections there on May 14, ” said Leonkov.
According to Leonkov, previously NATO and the EU seemed to the Turkish authorities a normal tool for achieving national goals. But cooperation turned out to be largely one-sided. And although the F-16 story is one of the particular manifestations of the general situation, it says a lot, in particular, that Ankara is able to draw conclusions and reconsider partnerships even with strategic allies, to whom there are not only political, but also military obligations.
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