Turkey to make light helicopters, possibly with Sikorsky

Turkey soon will begin to design and develop a military and civilian light utility helicopter, probably together with a foreign partner, and possibly the U.S. Sikorsky Aircraft, defense procurement chief Murad Bayar said late Monday.

Bayar’s remarks to Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review came during a boat tour of the Bosphorus on the sidelines of the 2011 International Defense Industry Fair, or IDEF, held in Istanbul between May 10 and 13.

Turkish President Abdullah Gül opened the fair Tuesday, saying that Turkey has been attaching great importance to defense industry in recent years.

“The country particularly has experienced great improvement in terms of designing the productions and using local sources in defense industry,” Gül said.

Earlier Bayar said on the light utility helicopter issue that Sikorsky, a leading manufacturer of various helicopters, did not have a helicopter weighing between 4,500 and 5,500 kilograms, the type of platform Turkey wants to develop.

“Turkey and Sikorsky Aircraft together can work on this matter. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, we are ready to work with other companies,” Bayar said.

Another top Turkish defense official said Turkey wanted a foreign partner that can bring marketing advantages to the light utility helicopter program.

“It’s not that we can’t make that helicopter, we can make it. But we would prefer to work with a company that has large marketing capabilities also in third markets,” Muharrem Dortkasli, general manager of Turkish Aerospace Industries, or TAI, Turkey’s main aerospace company.

Export eyed for new copters

Both Bayar and Dortkasli said the new product should appeal to customers from Turkey and several other countries.

Bayar said Turkey would seriously begin to work on this new program later this year. “This is a high-priority program for us,” he said.

Sikorsky Aircraft in late April won a $3.5 billion contract against the Italian AgustaWestland to jointly manufacture the T-70 large utility helicopter weighing more than 10,000 kilograms, a Turkish version of its S-70i International Black Hawk.

Sikorsky and its Turkish partners led by TAI will produce in the first batch a total of 109 helicopters, mostly for military and security forces. With follow-on orders, the number of utility helicopters to be jointly produced may exceed 600, defense officials have said.

Turkish and Sikorsky officials have already discussed the light utility helicopter, and those talks are expected to intensify in future month.

A total of 25 defense ministers and four chiefs of the general staff attended IDEF’s opening. More than 500 local and international companies are taking part in the fair.

Turkey presently spends slightly over $4 billion for defense procurement a year, but in upcoming years this figure will rise in line with several major programs taking effect

The bi-annual IDEF fairs have been held in Turkey since the 1990s. Organized in odd years, the fair had been held in Ankara. But the venue changed in 2009, and the fair was taken to Istanbul.

Istanbul – Umit Enginson, HDN