A senior Turkish official says Ankara may consider the purchase of Russian Su-35 fighter jets, if plans to buy F-16 aircraft from the United States fail.
Ismail Demir, head of the Turkish Defense Industries Directorate, made the remarks while speaking to CNN Turk on Saturday, when asked about Turkey’s alternatives in the event of the F-16 deal’s failure. He stressed that "one of the variants could be the Su-35."
“If there will be no F-16s … We’ll say that Turkey is not without alternatives. All alternatives, including the Su-35, come to the table,” he said.
A highly maneuverable supersonic jet, the Su-35 is capable of destroying aerial targets, as well as striking seaborne and ground targets, such as air defense sites.
Turkey made a request in October to the United States to buy 40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighters and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes. Washington has so far refrained from expressing any opinion on the sale, saying it needs to go through the standard arms sales process.
The sale of US weapons to NATO ally Turkey became contentious after Ankara acquired Russian S-400 missile defense systems, triggering US sanctions as well as Turkey's removal from the F-35 fighter jet program.
Moscow and Ankara signed an agreement in 2017 to deliver S-400 to Turkey, making it the first NATO member to purchase the air defense missile system from Russia.
The deal angered the US and NATO, with Washington pressuring Turkey to abandon the Russian air defense system.
The US claims that the Russian missile systems are not compatible with the military hardware within the Western military alliance.
Washington canceled the joint memorandum on the F-35 with Turkey in 2019, signing it with the seven remaining partners in the F-35 project - the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Denmark, Canada and Norway.
At the time, Ankara condemned the move as a “grave mistake” that would inevitably harm mutual relations and threatened retaliation.
Turkey has continued to look for ways to modernize its air force after the US removed it from its F-35 export program.
It has since been in talks to buy 40 F-16 jets, which are older and less advanced than the F-35s.
In a call on March 10, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told US President Joe Biden that it was past time to lift all "unjust" sanctions on Turkey's defense industry and that Turkey expected its request to purchase F-16s to be finalized as soon as possible.
In April, the Biden administration said it believes a potential sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey would be in line with US national security interests and would also serve NATO's long-term unity.
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