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BURAK BEKDİL > Who killed the crew of four?

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In mid-1990s, Turkey’s military and defense procurement authorities established that there was an imminent need to renew the Air Force’s aging fleet of T-37 trainer aircraft. In 1999, they made up their mind to buy new trainer aircraft. In 2000, they officially launched a bidding. In 2003, as part of the bidding, they issued a Request for Proposals – an invitation to the contest.

In March 2007, about eight years after the decision to renew the fleet of T-37s was made, Lt. Pilot Baris Cakir died as his T-37, made in the United States in 1968, purchased from Jordan in 1992, tail number 68-7998, belonging to the 122nd Fleet, crashed during a training flight. In June 2007, Turkish authorities selected a new trainer aircraft, the South Korean KT-1, and deliveries were completed in 2010-11, more than a decade after the requirement had been established.

The headline of this column on March 9, 2007 asked “Why did the lieutenant die?” adding, in the opening line, that the title could well have read “Who killed the lieutenant?” had the probation for my 20-month prison sentence for an article I had written before ended.

About three years ago, Turkey’s military and defense procurement bureaucracy established that there was an imminent need to acquire “barrier detection systems” to be installed on military helicopters. The planned system would prevent crashes due to pilots hitting any barrier in low visibility.

The defense bureaucracy first decided to buy the system from a foreign manufacturer, worth about $20,000 per helicopter (no typo here, just $20,000 in an annual defense acquisition pool of about $4 billion). Then a local defense company volunteered for the task, pledging to indigenously design, develop and manufacture the system. Since then defense procurement bureaucrats have been zigzagging between the off-the-shelf purchase and local development options. The last update on the web page of the defense procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), on the “barrier detection system program” is dated June 29, 2012, and it says that “the work is in progress to determine a modality for the project.” As always, timely progress is too rare a commodity in the Turkish bureaucratic system.

On Dec. 17, 2013, after about a year and a half long silence on the last public update on the barrier detection system, a Sikorsky S-70 utility helicopter crashed near Ankara during a training flight. The helicopter had crashed into a high-voltage transmission line. Two pilots -- a major and a lieutenant – along with an aircraft technician and a first sergeant, four crew members in total, died during the crash.
As the Turkish state custom dictates, fancy funeral ceremonies were held for the martyrs. Fancy speeches were made. Their beloved ones wept. The nation saw four new coffins wrapped in the Crescent and Star. Everyone condemned the evil high-voltage transmission line that killed our martyrs.

Once again, we buried our dead soldiers. Their families will be decorated. The orphans will be proud of their dead fathers’ medals of martyrdom. The generous Turkish state will pay pensions and grant privileges to the widows and their children. That will probably cost the Turkish state much more than the $20,000-per-barrier-detection-system that remains to be installed on military helicopters. As the morning hours across the Aegean Sea showed 6 am on Jan. 7, the SSM’s official page was proudly flashing the same public announcement regarding the program: “The work is in progress to determine a modality for the project.”

It is a great relief that the work is in progress to determine a modality. Good luck, gentlemen.

Remember not to work overtime. Do not exhaust yourselves. We have plenty of more army pilots to fly our S-70s and other helicopters.

January/08/2014

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