News Column

The truth about attack helicopters

June 17, 2014

ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- Turkey has taken certain steps over the years to improve the poor structure of its defense industry by pushing local companies to produce military technologies domestically to reduce the reliance on arms systems from abroad in order to turn the industry into one that can export weapons and contribute to the economy instead of being a continuous burden.

The government has been increasing the financial resources earmarked for defense research and development (R&D) since 2004, the year it canceled costly co-production projects for things such as attack helicopters and main battle tanks. Instead, the government initiated a model for such costly projects based on using the maximum local content possible and for which the foreign suppliers of the given systems also agreed to certain technology transfers that Ankara does not yet own.

Taking into consideration the fact that domestic production of highly sophisticated military technologies take years, with the governments allocating a huge amount of resources for the development of indigenous weapons systems, Turkey still has a long way to go to be classified among the top 10 arms manufacturing nations, a goal that Ankara has set for itself by the year 2023.

Yet, Turkish decision-makers opt to portray the relative improvements that have boosted the Turkish defense industry infrastructure as though Turkey is now able to locally develop highly advanced arms systems or platforms such as attack helicopters. And local media fail to question the official announcements that deceive the public about the level of Turkish capability to produce critical military technologies, an area in which Turkey has so far been poor.

The first three early delivery, basic configuration T129 attack helicopters were put into service last week with a ceremony held at the Turkish Army Aviation Command in Ankara. It included a highly exaggerated presentation of Turkish capabilities to produce these attack helicopters, reflecting the effort to mislead the public about what Turkey can and cannot produce domestically in terms of arms systems.

Several pro- and anti-government dailies announced the delivery of the three attack helicopters, which had been delayed for more than a year, as "Turkey's first domestically made helicopters."

The T129 Attack and Reconnaissance Helicopter (ATAK) Program, which comprises the main batch of 50 T129B plus nine early delivery helos (three of which were delivered last week) is being conducted by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and the Italian company AgustaWestland (AW). TAI is to assemble and modify the main batch of 50 T129Bs, a variant of the A129 Mangusta, being developed specifically for Turkey.

Although the majority of the helicopters are to be built in Turkey, the nine early delivery T129As, ordered as a stop-gap measure, have largely been assembled by AgustaWestland in Italy. The ATAK program is valued at over $3 billion.

It is true that the main batch of 50 T129B helicopters will also be fitted with Turkish products manufactured by several companies, including Aselsan, Havelsan and Roketsan.

Speaking during the delivery ceremony for the first three attack helicopters, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that the T129Bs' armament will include Roketsan's locally developed Mizrak-U long-range, infrared-guided, anti-tank missile and Cirit laser-guided 70 mm rocket.

"The only production line for these helicopters is in Turkey. Hence, any helicopters to be sold to third countries will be manufactured on this line. Turkey has now shifted from being a country that buys helicopters to the one producing and selling them. Turkey is now manufacturing its helicopters, rifles, UAVs and tanks as a result of a policy initiated in 2004 to manufacture arms systems locally and improve the Turkish defense industry infrastructure," said Erdogan.

However, Erdogan's remarks contain a great degree of a propaganda that does not reflect reality in the sense that Turkey has not yet been able to develop the defense industry capacity to build its own helicopters. Local industry has, however, increased its manufacturing technologies capability to support, for instance, a helicopter platform supplied by a foreign contractor, with complimentary arms systems.

The TAI statement posted on its website on June 9 reflects the reality that the Italian attack helicopters are fitted with equipment to meet specific Turkish requirements.

"T129 ATAK is the result of the integration of nationally developed high-tech avionic equipment and weapon systems with the combat proven A129 airframe, with upgraded engines, transmission, and rotor blades," it said.

In the past, it was the military that deceived the public about Turkey's real capabilities in military technologies to cover up its high defense expenditures that neglected the local defense industry by purchasing arms directly from foreign suppliers. Now it is the government that is portraying the local defense industry infrastructure as though it can produce these very critical technologies.

The unaccountable status of the military lies at the heart of the problem and, as a result, the public can easily be deceived about Turkey's real capabilities in military technologies.

LALE KEMAL (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CIHAN

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Source: Cihan News Agency (Turkey)

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