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Delivery of long-delayed spy planes to start next year

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 5/5/2011 12:00:00 AM | ÜMİT ENGİNSOY

Boeing will deliver the first of four spy planes it is building for the Turkish Air Force next year.

Next year Boeing, a top United States aircraft manufacturer, will deliver the first of four spy planes it is building for the Turkish Air Force in Turkey's long-delayed multibillion-dollar Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft program, a senior company official said Thursday.

"We're looking forward to the first delivery toward the end of next year," said Mark Ellis, director at Boeing for Turkey's Peace Eagle aircraft program at a briefing at the Turkish Aerospace Industries plant near Ankara. The remaining three planes are expected to enter service in 2013.

In 2003, Turkey's Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, the procurement agency, ordered from the Chicago-based Boeing four 737-700 planes for the aircraft program, a ground radar, and control systems plus ground control segments for mission crew training, mission support and maintenance support.

The contract was for $1.6 billion. The original contract contained an option for two more aircraft but both Turkish and Boeing officials said there was no indication that Ankara would buy the two additional aircraft.

In 2007 when the first plane was scheduled to arrive, U.S. and Turkish officials said software production and integration problems were delaying the deliveries in a major way. Boeing officials said at the time the development had been tougher than expected.

Turkey's contract came one year after Australia signed a similar deal for six 737-700s and related systems. Australia's program also faced similar delays, but eventually Boeing delivered four aircraft and has begun training Royal Australian Air Force maintainers as part of the contract. This paved the way for the removal of the problems in the Turkish program.

South Korea also is in a process to buy the same type of aircraft.

Turkey plans to use the spy planes for national defense and for NATO-related missions.

The program, based on Boeing's popular 737-700 civilian aircraft, will come with Northrop Grumman's MESA electronically scanned array radar, an all-weather, 360-degree air and maritime mode system.

An airborne early warning system is a radar carried by an aircraft designed to detect other planes. Used at high altitude, the radar allows the operator to distinguish between friendly and hostile aircraft hundreds of miles away. Early warning aircraft are used offensively to direct fighters to their target locations and defensively to counter attacks.

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