Turkey to rent five King Air 350 surveillance jets from US firm

Turkey to rent five King Air 350 surveillance jets from US firm

ÖZGÜR EKŞİ ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey to rent five King Air 350 surveillance jets from US firm

The King Air 350 surveillance planes can carry up to nine passengers, but the installation of an electronic suit for surveillance will reduce its capacity to five people.

To augment its airborne equipment in the anti-terrorism struggle in the southeast, Turkey will lease five King Air 350 surveillance planes from the United States.

The Defense Industry Executive Committee (SSİK) has decided to begin negotiations for the lease of five planes on a two-year contract for $70 million, sources said. The planes would be used to monitor the movements of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeast, along with existing Israeli-made unmanned aircraft, the Herons.

The Turkish military started the confidential program with the Turkish procurement agency, the Undersecretariat of Defense Industries (SSM), in late December 2011, to buy pilot-controlled airplanes to fly in the region. The King Air 350 by the American company Hawker Beechcraft was singled out as the preferred aircraft, and the SSM invited a local company to find the specific planes.

The SSİK did not actually convene to make a decision. Instead, a letter of decision was sent from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s office to Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and Minister of Defense İsmet Yılmaz. The decision allows the SSM to sign a two-year contract worth $14 million for each of the aircraft. The planes will have electrical optic devices to monitor terrorist activities on the ground. The Turkish Land Forces will provide the pilots and the aircraft fuel. The mediator company will provide the airplanes before the end of May 2012, and will take care of maintenance for 4,000 flying hours for the next two years.

Each plane can carry up to nine passengers and fly up to 8 hours, but the installation of an electronic surveillance suite will reduce their capacity to five people. The planes fly at an altitude of 10,000 feet and send all collected data to a ground station with an online data link. The planes will be based in Batman with the Herons. Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) is also considering renting similar planes.

Cost controversy

It was also proposed that the SSM should purchase the planes outright. A single plane costs less than $7 million, but the addition of extra equipment and fees brings the price up to about $12 million. The electronic suite costs around $2 million, and maintenance for 4,000 hours of flying time costs $2 million in total, as the work costs $500 per hour. Proponents of that option argued that the total cost of a plane would be $12 million, and it would become the property of the Turkish Army in the end.

Defense sources claim that the Ankara-based Santay Air company won the bid for the tender, although in response to a call from the Hürriyet Daily News, Santay Air’s Vice General Manager Ahmet Özen denied the company had won the tender and said the company had no connection with the project at all, adding that they only fly ambulance airplanes for the Health Ministry. Defense industry sources however insist that Santay Air is involved. Dinçer Şen, a partner in Santay Air, is said to have won the project, together with another commercial party the name of which has been kept confidential.