US gunships for Turkey need Congress’ approval

The three AH-1W attack helicopters the U.S. administration plans to transfer to the Turkish Army to fight the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) require Congress’ approval of the deal, a senior American official has said.

An AH-1W attack helicopter, which is planned to transferred to Turkey, erforms during an airshow in this file. Photo by Kipp Baker.

An AH-1W attack helicopter, which is planned to transferred to Turkey, erforms during an airshow in this file. Photo by Kipp Baker.

“We plan to transfer three AH-1Ws, but this needs to be approved by Congress and our officials are working on that now,” the official told Hürriyet Daily News late Oct. 26 on condition of anonymity.

The choppers are expected to cost Turkey around $75 million. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the Pentagon’s arms-selling office, notifies Congress of a planned sale only after it becomes certain that the deal will face no obstacles. Just a single senator can halt an arms sale indefinitely. If no veto comes in the Senate against a planned arms transfer, the deal is confirmed automatically 15 days after the DSCA notification.

The three gunships to be given to Turkey would be new, the U.S. official said. The U.S. rejected earlier Turkish requests for the gunships, saying its Marine Corps had around 170 AH-1Ws and was using all of them in the Afghanistan war.

Turkey acquired 10 AH-1W Super Cobras from the U.S. in the 1990s and has been using them effectively against the PKK. But, following a few crashes, it only has six operational choppers now and Ankara has been asking Washington to transfer a few more.

Turkey has more than 20 earlier models of the Cobra family, all produced by Bell Helicopter Textron. These earlier attack helicopters, however, have single engines and their performances are very limited compared to those of the AH-1Ws.

Bell Helicopter Textron began production of the AH-1Z, the latest member of the Cobra family, in recent years and delivered the first batch to the U.S. Marine Corps in January. Turkey’s efforts to obtain more attack helicopters have been continuing 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 cancelled tender contracts and opened a new bidding process, which was boycotted by U.S. manufacturers. Eventually, Turkey selected the 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. The first deliveries are scheduled for late next year while the gunship is expected to enter service in the Turkish Army in 2013.

Summer fighting season

Defense analysts suggest that to be useful in the fight against the PKK, the planned three AH-1W Super Cobras need to enter service by the beginning of next summer. Each year, PKK-related fighting worsens by the summer and dies down in November because of winter conditions.

“The Super Cobra matter is another reason why the relations between Turkey and Israel should be warm. Otherwise, any pro-Israeli senator may kill it,” said one Turkish defense analyst.

Turkey’s ties with its former ally Israel have been at a nadir since Israeli forces killed nine Turks in a raid on a Turkish-led aid flotilla bound for Gaza last year. Israel has refused to apologize or pay compensation for the deaths, leading Turkey to downgrade diplomatic relations and cancel all military deals.

The PKK intensified attacks on Turkish targets this summer, killing hundreds of soldiers and civilians. Turkey’s recent decision to host a radar for NATO’s planned missile shield against possible missile attacks from rogue states has begun to produce equipment benefits, including the AH-1W.

Speaking about the electronic intelligence on the PKK’s movements in northern Iraq that the U.S. supplies to Turkey via MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles, the U.S. official said the cooperation would continue but did not elaborate.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

Thursday, October 27, 2011
Ümit Enginsoy
ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News