Turkey Sends Delegation to Russia for Attack Helicopters

ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)—Turkey, whose earlier request to buy US Cobra attack helicopters has so far been turned down on grounds that they are not available, is sending a military-led delegation to Russia Monday to further talks over the planned acquisition of at least 12 Mil Mi-28 “Havoc” attack helicopters as a stop gap measure in the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Today’s Zaman has learned.

A Turkish military delegation’s planned visit to Moscow, expected to start Monday, comes in the midst of calls made by Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ in Washington for the US administration to sell urgently required military hardware to Turkey, including attack helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Gen. Başbuğ made a June 1 speech at the annual meeting of the American-Turkish Council, held in Washington, during which he urged the US to carry the existing cooperation between the two NATO allies in the fight against the PKK from the existing US supply of real-time intelligence to a new phase of cooperation. “This cooperation should go beyond the existing intelligence cooperation,” Başbuğ said.

Turkish fighters have been engaged in aerial bombardments of PKK targets in northern Iraq since December 2007, using US-supplied real-time intelligence, which has been critical in pinpointing PKK targets accurately to avoid serious collateral damage. The US has been using UAVs, satellites and Lockheed Martin-made U-2 High-Altitude Reconnaissance Aircraft (Dragon Lady) to supply Turkey with real-time intelligence on PKK activities in northern Iraq, while the Turkish military has been using Israeli-made UAVs purchased earlier as a stopgap measure to gather intelligence on the PKK inside the country.

Turkish military analysts told Today’s Zaman that Gen. Başbuğ meant with his statement in Washington that Turkish-US cooperation should go beyond the existing intelligence cooperation and that the US should sell military hardware to Turkey.

Turkey has already applied to the US for the purchase of two General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.-made Predator UAVs, while an earlier Turkish demand for the purchase of up to 12 US Bell-made Cobra attack helicopters have so far been turned down by Washington due to their unavailability in the next several years.

But the US’s refusal to sell the Cobras to Turkey is believed to be because of Turkey’s decision in 2007 to produce 50 Italian AugustaWestland-made attack and tactical reconnaissance helicopters, named “ATAK,” when the Italian company agreed to transfer technology so that helicopters meeting specific Turkish requests will be built at Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) facilities in Ankara.

The first T129 attack helicopter (designated as the T129, a Turkish version of the A129 Mangusta) is planned to be produced in 2015.

Ankara signed a deal worth around $2.7 billion with AugustaWestland in June 2008 for the production of 50 ATAKs, but the Turkish Armed Forces declined AugustaWestland’s offer of off-the-shelf A129 Mangusta attack helicopters as an interim solution on the grounds that the current A129 helicopters would not meet its urgent operational requirements.

US companies did not bid in the attack project as they could not meet the Turkish contract terms and conditions, which sought a transfer of technology, prohibited under US law.

According to a senior Turkish defense industrialist, had Turkey signed a deal with the US for the production of attack helicopters, he is confident Washington would have supplied Turkey with Cobras as an interim measure.

Since the possibility of the US supplying Turkey with Cobra helicopters is now low, Turkey has sped up efforts to buy the advanced Russian Mi-28 helicopters that the Turkish army has been keen on buying.

During the visit to Russia, a Turkish military-led delegation will learn the price and quick delivery options of the Mi-28 helicopters, the Turkish sources said. Turkey is believed to have five or six operational Cobras in its inventory. Attack helicopters are one of the key players in the fight against the PKK. Turkey entered talks with Russia’s Rosoboronexport late last year for the purchase of 12 Mi-28 attack helicopters, as revealed by Today’s Zaman at the time.

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