Turkey to urgently buy nine extra attack helicopters
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 6/16/2010 12:00:00 AM | ÜMİT ENGİNSOY
Turkey urgently will launch talks to buy nine additional T129 attack helicopters beingbuilt by a group led by the Italian-British manufacturer AgustaWestland
Turkey urgently will launch talks to buy nine additional T129 attack helicopters being built by a group led by the Italian-British manufacturer AgustaWestland. The helicopters are expected to be used against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, operating in an area near the country’s borders with Iraq and Iran, a key official announced late Tuesday.
"In an effort to meet the urgent needs of the Turkish Land Forces Command and as part of the ongoing attack helicopter program, negotiations for the procurement of an additional nine attack helicopters will be launched with TUSAS," National Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül told reporters after a meeting of the Defense Industry Executive Committee, Turkey’s highest decision-making body on procurement.
The PKK is considered as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.
TUSAS is the Turkish name for the Turkish Aerospace Industries, the prime contractor in Ankara’s ongoing program to jointly manufacture 50 other attack helicopters with the Italian-led AgustaWestland.
The nine helicopters will come in addition to those 50 choppers. The additional nine gunships to be procured also will be the T129s, the planned Turkish version of the A129 Mangusta International. The additional contract is expected to be worth a few hundred million dollars.
The Defense Industry Executive Committee’s members include Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Gönül, Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ and the head of Turkey’s procurement agency, Murad Bayar.
[HH] Faster production
TUSAS and AgustaWestland officials are expected to meet as early as next week to discuss the production timetable for the nine additional gunships urgently needed by the Army.
The planned target would be the delivery of the first of these nine gunships within two years, one industry source said.
Bayar’s office, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, and AgustaWestland signed a multibillion-dollar contract in 2008 for joint production of 50 T129s. The first of these helicopters are planned to be delivered in 2014.
The PKK has stepped up attacks on Turkish targets this spring.
The Turkish Army presently operates about six U.S.-made AH-1W Super Cobras and more than 20 earlier model Cobra helicopters, and military officials in recent years have voiced an urgent need for additional gunships to improve the fight against the PKK.
The T129s of the original 2008 contract should become operational as of 2014, and the latest announcement for additional gunships means a stopgap solution until that time.
On another helicopter business, the Defense Industry Executive Committee's Tuesday meeting did not produce a much expected decision on the selection of the Turkish military's next utility – or general purpose – helicopter.
AgustaWestland and the U.S. Sikorsky Aircraft are vying for the multibillion-dollar contract to jointly manufacture with Turkish partners hundreds of utility helicopters. The first batch includes 109 platforms.
Gönül said the committee is expected to reach a final utility helicopter decision soon, but did not elaborate. The committee's next meeting is expected in the fall, probably in October.
In a related development, Gönül said Turkey had decided to sign a foreign military sales agreement with the United States for the purchase of several heavy-lift helicopters for the Army and the Special Forces.
The U.S. Congress in December formally allowed for the sale to the Turkish military of 14 CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters and related equipment, worth up to $1.2 billion.
Turkey's Special Forces will buy four of the CH-47s, and the rest will go to the Army. Boeing manufactures these platforms. The 14 CH-47F Chinooks will be the first heavy-lift helicopters in the Turkish military's inventory.
Asked to comment on whether recent Turkish-Israeli tensions would lead to curbs in defense industry relations with the country, Gönül said Turkey presently had no state-to-state agreement with Israel on arms purchases. He said the ongoing deals were private contracts between Turkish and Israeli companies and they would not be affected.