Turkey’s decision to host special radar for NATO’s planned missile shield has begun producing equipment benefits with a recent U.S. promise to transfer three AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters to Ankara’s control for use against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The Turkish Foreign Ministry announced Sept. 14 that the NATO radar would be installed at a military base in Kürecik in the eastern province of Malatya to counter possible missile attacks from rogue nations. Turkish defense officials said the radar system would be operated through a base in Germany where a Turkish general will work alongside U.S. and NATO officers.
U.S. ambassador to Ankara Frank Ricciardone told Turkish reporters Sept. 30 that the U.S. administration had agreed to transfer three AH-1Ws to the Turkish military to be used in the fight against the PKK. Turkish defense analysts have all agreed that the move was part of a reward package in return for Ankara’s decision on the NATO radar.
“All this is valuable, but is still a small price for taking the risk of hosting the NATO radar. Iran already has expressed its ire against Turkey. So something more is expected to come from the United States, probably in terms of equipment and in political support,” said an Ankara-based defense analyst familiar with U.S.-Turkish relations.
Turkey acquired 10 AH-1W Super Cobras from the United States in the 1990s and has been using them effectively against the PKK. However, following several crashes, it now has six operational choppers and Ankara has asked Washington to transfer a few more.
The U.S. rejected earlier Turkish requests for the transfer, saying its Marine Corps had around 170 AH-1Ws and was using them all in Afghanistan. As U.S. forces now prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan in the upcoming months, three Super Cobras are expected to be given to Turkey from the Afghanistan fleet. Turkey also has more than 20 earlier models of the Cobra family, all produced by Bell Helicopter Textron. These earlier attack helicopters have single engines, and their performances are very limited compared to those of the AH-1W.
Bell Helicopter Textron began production of the AH-1Z, the latest member of the Cobra family, in recent years and delivered the first batch of the gunships to the U.S. Marine Corps in January this year.
Turkey’s effort to obtain more attack helicopters has continued since the late 1990s. Bell Helicopter Textron won Turkey’s first tender with the AH-1Z in 2002, but the U.S. company and the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), Turkey’s procurement agency, were unable to agree on the gunship’s features and price for three years.
As a result, SSM canceled that decision and opened a new bidding process that was then boycotted by American manufacturers. Eventually, Turkey selected Italian AgustaWestland’s T-129, a Turkish version of the A-129 Mangusta International, over South Africa’s Denel, maker of the AH-2 Rooivalk. Presently, AgustaWestland and Turkish Aerospace Industries, its Turkish partner, are manufacturing a total of 59 T-129s, worth billions of dollars, for the Turkish Army.
A first prototype crashed in Italy late last year, but TAI managed to successfully fly another prototype in Turkey several months ago. The first deliveries are scheduled for late next year, and the gunship is expected to enter service in the Turkish Army in 2013. Turkey and Italy have also agreed to potentially sell the helicopter to allied nations.
Separately, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently announced that a number of MQ-1 Predator drones would also be acquired from the U.S. Turkey had asked for both unarmed and armed versions of the Predator nearly three years ago. The MQ-1 Predator is mainly the surveillance version, and the MQ-9 Reaper is the armed version. The U.S. extensively uses the Reaper in attacking al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist and insurgent groups in Afghanistan. The U.S. has sold the Reaper just to Britain for use in Afghanistan.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union.