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Thread: Turkey's attack helicopter has good export prospects

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    Turkey's attack helicopter has good export prospects

    SSM head Bayar: Turkey's attack helicopter has good export prospects

    With Turkey's first domestically developed helicopter ready for mass production, the country's rising defense exports may get a substantial boost.
    The T-129 attack helicopter, co-produced by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and Italy's AgustaWestland, has strong export potential, Murad Bayar, head of the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), has said.

    Atak (attack), Turkey's first domestically produced attack helicopter, is almost ready for delivery to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). Although the acceptance process is not yet complete, Atak has successfully completed acceptance tests, with the first helicopter expected to be delivered to the TSK in September. “We may complete the delivery of the first nine helicopters by the end of the year,” Bayar told Today's Zaman in an exclusive interview. “After the helicopter starts being used by the TSK, I believe these helicopters will have strong chances for export,” the undersecretary added.

    Its defense industry booming in recent years, Turkey has started to attract international attention with domestically produced defense products. Azerbaijan is reportedly looking to buy 60 T-129 helicopters. Jordan's King Abdullah, who was in Turkey in March, paid a visit to TAI, examining both Turkey's attack helicopter and a drone, the Anka (phoenix), also recently developed by the company.

    Brazil, one of the world's leading emerging economies, is also interested in Turkey's defense products. “You have a corvette which has very high standards […] very good helicopters. I think the UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] is a possibility,” Celso Amorim, Brazilian minister of defense, told Today's Zaman on a recent visit to Ankara, a sign of Brazil's interest in buying Turkish products and cooperating with Turkey on defense.

    For the attack helicopter, TAI developed the software source codes and carried out their integration, while Aselsan, a Turkish defense giant in electronics and weapons systems, and AgustaWestland are the project's major subcontractors. Turkish engineers also made significant contributions to the avionics technology and heavy armor protection of the helicopters, of which Turkey plans to produce 51 in the first batch.

    Defense exports rose fourfold in past 10 years

    In the last 10 years, the annual revenue of Turkey's defense and aviation industries increased fourfold; the industries' exports increased fivefold. The future looks promising given that spending on defense and aviation research and development has risen more than tenfold in the same period.

    The Turkish defense industry has been developing by leaps and bounds in recent years. According to data from the Defense and Aerospace Industry Manufacturers' Association (SaSad), total industry turnover, including sales of civilian aviation industry products, reached $4.4 billion in 2011. While total civilian and defense exports amounted to $1.1 billion in the same year, the defense industry alone exported $817 million.

    Turkey's achievements in the defense sector are reflected in export figures. According to data from the Defense and Aerospace Industry Exporters' Association (SSI), which was established in 2011, the industry's exports rose to $1.262 billion in 2012 from a little over $600 million in 2007 and $850 million in 2010.

    This year the industry hopes to export $1.5 billion and -- as per the SSM's strategic plan -- increase yearly revenue to $8 billion and exports to $2 billion by 2016. Presently ranked 16th in terms of turnover, Turkey's defense industry is looking to join the global top 10 by 2023, the centennial of the foundation of the Turkish Republic.

    Another domestic defense product in line for delivery to the Turkish Armed Forces is the Anka drone, which has successfully passed test flights. “We are at the final stage for mass production. We hope to sign the contract [with the TAI] this month,” said Bayar, who attended, along with a few colleagues, a breakfast meeting hosted recently by Today's Zaman at the daily's Ankara office.

    At present, there are four prototypes of Turkey's first domestically built UAV. The Turkish Air Forces (THK) is using one of them for surveillance against possible terrorist threats in Turkey's southeastern Batman province. The Anka can fly for 24 hours at a time and has a maximum speed of 75 knots per hour.

    TAI was involved in negotiations to sell the Anka drone to Egypt, but talks were suspended following the coup as Turkey stopped arms sales to the North African country. TAI is also holding negotiations with Saudi Arabia. The TSK is planning to get 10 Anka drones.

    Long-range air defense contract may be finalized

    Air defense is a soft spot for Turkey, which is otherwise considered a major military power. To deal with this deficiency, several years ago the SSM announced a tender for a long-range air defense system. The result of the $4 billion tender, for which four major foreign companies, from the US, Russia, China and the EU, have bid, is expected to be announced in the coming weeks. “If the Defense Industry Executive Committee convenes in the following days, we may take a decision on the issue,” Bayar said.

    Formerly planning to make an off-the-shelf purchase, the SSM in the present tender asked bidders for the long-range air defense system to submit co-production solutions. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin of the US are putting the Patriot air defense system up for competition, while Russia's Rosoboronexport is offering its S-300 system. The China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp. (CPMIEC) is offering its HQ-9. Eurosam, an Italian-French consortium, is in the game with the SAMP/T Aster 30.

    Although the long-range air defense systems are designed to offer protection against both aircraft and missile threats, as Bayar noted, the systems are more successful in countering aircraft, as it's almost impossible for current technology to provide complete protection against ballistic missile attacks. “Systems such as the Patriot can offer a certain level of protection [against missiles], Bayar said, adding, “Ballistic missile attacks would come in a fusillade, not in single shots.” In an attack, some missiles would probably get past any air defense system.

    In an effort to shore up its air defense, Turkey is also looking to locally produce missile defense systems. Aselsan, the main contractor for Turkey' short- and medium-range air defense systems, has plans to try its hand at producing a Patriot-like long-range system. Prototypes for short- and medium-range air defense missiles have been successfully tested.

    Turkey has tried to counterbalance its weakness in air defense systems with its strong air force. Turkey's fleet of 240 F-16s, one of the world's biggest, constitutes the main striking power of the Turkish Air Forces. Noting that Turkey's F-16s are either the latest models or models that have been modernized by TAI, Bayar said, “This fleet is one of the most modern F-16 fleets in the world.”

    In case of a military intervention in Syria, Turkey can partly defend itself against Syria's missile threat with its modern air force. Some of the aircraft in Turkey's fleet are equipped with domestically produced guided missiles with a range of over 100 nautical miles, so Turkish aircraft would be able to destroy enemy missile launchers.

    Turkey to get first F-35 in 2017

    To replace its aging fleet of nearly 100 F-4s, which will be put out of service by the year 2020, Turkey has joined the US-led F-35 Joint Strike Fighter development project with eight other countries. Having delayed the reception of its first F-35 for two years, Turkey will get its first stealth fighter in 2017. “Thanks to a delay of two years, our procurement costs will be lower,” Bayar said, noting that the cost of each jet will fall as the number of jets manufactured rises. In a period of 10 years, Turkey plans to buy 100 F-35s. “The total cost for Turkey will be around $16 billion,” the head of the SSM said.

    Turkey, which is charged with producing part of the F-35's airframe, will significantly benefit from the project. “In the project, we stand to make nearly $8 billion,” Bayar said. As part of its ambitions in aviation and space technology, Turkey is also planning to produce its own fighter jet. The conceptual design of the jet, in which TAI has received technological assistance from Sweden's Saab, will be finished by the end of this year. The jet is planned to make its maiden flight in 2023 and enter into service by 2030.

    The Altay main battle tank is another major defense project. Turkey's Otokar got know-how from South Korea's Hyundai Rotem on some crucial parts of the tank, such as the armor and the 120 millimeter, 55 caliber gun. The project will raise Turkey's international prestige and move the country up a league in the global defense industry, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has proudly said.* *

    “The design and development stage of Altay will be completed by the end of next year,” Bayar said. Although the end of 2015 is the target date to start mass production, it may not begin before 2016; as Bayar noted, once the decision to start production is made, two years of preparation time is needed to actually start making a newly developed tank.

    In the first batch, 250 tanks will be produced for the Turkish army. Thanks to its next-generation fire-control and command-and-control systems, which were developed specially for Altay by Aselsan, the tank will be able to strike even moving targets with very high accuracy.

    The tank will not only be highly protected against attacks -- even from air-to-surface missiles -- thanks to its modular composite armor, but will also be equipped with systems protecting its four occupants against chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear attacks. A total of $500 million has been allocated for the tank's design, qualification, testing and the production of prototypes, while the total to be spent, as announced by Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, on the tank's development, including technology transfer from Rotem, is as much as $1.2 billion.

    BMC may be asked to deliver remaining mine-resistant vehicles

    Despite Turkey's defense achievements in recent years, the production of mine-resistant vehicles has proved a relative failure. The company that won the contract, BMC, has failed, after delivering 293 mine-resistant vehicles to the Turkish army, to complete production of the remaining 175 vehicles because of financial difficulties.

    “We wouldn't have selected [as a winner] any company other than Otokar or FNSS, if we had known then what we know today,” Bayar said, admitting that BMC's low bid led decision-makers to err. According to Bayar, only highly qualified companies with deep know-how should be taken as partners in defense contracts if Turkey's defense industry is to win itself a privileged place in the world. *

    When Çukurova Holding, of which BMC is a part, failed to pay off its debt to the state -- and as a result BMC failed to honor the contract it had signed with the SSM in 2009 -- BMC was seized in May this year by Turkey's Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF). Last week, the TMSF notified the SSM that production of the Kirpi (hedgehog) mine-resistant vehicle would resume. If Kirpi's production line is reactivated at BMC, then the SSM may agree to work with the TMSF to meet the TSK's need, Bayar said. *

    Turkey, which aims to domestically produce a fighter jet and a helicopter, has been investing heavily in aviation. A large, organized industrial zone, where domestic and foreign companies specializing in aviation and space will cluster together, is being established in Ankara's Kazan district.

    With a view to producing all sorts of observation and communications satellites, a Space and Satellite Integration Center has recently been set up within TAI. A third major step in aviation is an Aselsan facility, currently under construction, in which high-tech radar and electronic warfare technologies will be produced. In the 2020s, when all these investments should be beginning to bear fruit, the defense industry may prove to be a major source of export revenue for the country.
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