Military strives to finalize attack helicopter project

Military strives to finalize attack helicopter project

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Military strives to finalize attack helicopter project

This file photo shows a test flight of the first ATAK prototype in Italy’s Milan. AA photo

As 2012 winds down, Turkish military and procurement officials are striving to finish manufacturing the first T-129 attack helicopter, co-produced by Italy’s AgustaWestland and Turkish Aerospace Industries, before a self-imposed deadline of the end of the year, a senior procurement official said over the weekend.

“We are working hard to finish the first [nine] attack helicopters and deliver them to the Army. If we can, that’s fine, if not they will be delivered with a very small delay, that can happen any time,” the official said.

Turkey announced on March 30, 2007 that it had decided to negotiate with AgustaWestland to co-develop and produce 51 attack helicopters with 40 options based on Agusta’s A-129 Mangusta International. The T129 would be assembled in a plant near Ankara owned by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). A contract was signed on Sep. 7, 2007.

On June 22, 2008, the agreement – also known as ATAK and worth a total $3.2 billion – between TAI and AgustaWestland formally came into force. It has been confirmed that the T-129 would be a Turkish-built platform. Under the agreement, TAI would develop an indigenous mission computer, avionics and the weapons systems.

Tusaş Engine Industries, Inc. would manufacture the LHTEC CTS800-AN engines under license. Under the agreement, Turkey also has full marketing and intellectual property rights for the T-129 platform.

In November 2010, Turkey ordered an additional nine T-129s, increasing its total order to 60. The nine are to meet an urgent operational requirement for the Turkish Army against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). They are being built largely by AgustaWestland in Italy for delivery in late 2012, one year before the Turkish-built helicopters will start being delivered. The first nine choppers are to be armed by Turkey.

On Sep 28, 2009, the first flight of the T-129 P1 prototype took place at AgustaWestland’s facilities in Vergiate, Italy and on Aug. 17, 2011, TAI announced the first successful flight of the T-129 prototype produced at its facilities near Ankara. The tested prototype was the first of three that were assembled in Turkey.

“It is a major success to be able to make the T-129 without delays or negligible delays,” the procurement official said. “The rest of the gunships will start to be delivered next year.”

In May, South Korea shortlisted the T-129 – together with the United States’ AH-64 Apache helicopters, built by the Boeing Co. and the AH-1Z King Cobra, made by Bell Helicopter Textron – for its requirement of around 50 choppers. Preliminary talks are also being held with Pakistan for the sale of up to 15 gunships.

Two months ago, three AH-1W Super Cobra choppers were provided by the U.S. Marine Corps in line with an agreement made last year. Turkey operates another six Super Cobras and around 20 earlier models of the Cobra family.

Next year, some 200 of the Kirpi mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicles made by BMC under Israeli license, some 10 Anka unmanned aerial vehicles made by TAI, and a second order of Milgem corvettes, which have already been put to sea, will also be delivered to the military, according to the procurement official.