PARIS (Reuters)–French Defense Minister Alain Richard said on Monday that France and Germany hoped to sign orders for a first batch of 160 Eurocopter Tiger combat helicopters by the middle of 1999.
Speaking after meeting his German counterpart Rudolf Scharping–he also confirmed the Tiger had been withdrawn from a live firing test for a tender being held by Turkey.
Germany’s new Social Democrat-Green government held up the joint Tiger order pending a defense review–while Bonn’s BVB procurement agency withheld approval for the Turkish firing test–officials said.
The French-German order contract had been due to be signed in January–said a spokesman for Eurocopter–a joint venture between Aerospatiale and DaimlerChrsyler Aerospace.
"We both hope to conclude the agreement in the middle of 1999," Richard told journalists. Scharping said–"In Germany–the Tiger is considered already assured–already guaranteed."
Germany is expected to buy an initial 80 Tigers costing around five billion marks–for delivery from 2001. France is buying the other 80 in the first batch.
France is due to buy a total of 212 Tiger aircraft and Germany is to purchase 215.
A prototype Tiger sent to Ankara had to be pulled out of firing tests earlier in December–called for in the Turkish tender for helicopters–Eurocopter said.
Political sensitivity over Turkey’s tough line against Kurdish separatists has flared up since Italy arrested Kurdishchief Abdullah Ocalan.
"France had taken the view that Eurocopter could take responsibility in conducting discussions with Turkey and these discussion have not finished," Richard said. A Turkish decision was not expected for another two or three years–he added.
Scharping denied there was disagreement between France and Germany over the sale of Tigers to Turkey–saying that there was an established bilateral mechanism for discussing arms sales.
Turkey is running a tender for 145 combat helicopters worth potentially $4 billion. Bell Helicopter Textron has entered its AH-1 Cobra–Boeing its AH-64 Apache–Italy’s Agusta the A129 Mangusta and Russia has fielded the Kamov 50.