Turkey already has a separate multibillion-dollar contract with AgustaWestland for joint manufacture of 51 T129 attack helicopters, a Turkish version of the A129. In addition, in the wake of increased attacks by terrorists from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party that killed dozens of Turkish soldiers in June, the Ankara government decided to buy nine additional, expedited gunships from AgustaWestland.
"We expect to sign a contract for the nine attack helicopters soon," Guiseppe Orsi, chief executive officer of AgustaWestland, told reporters. He said the gunships would be delivered unarmed, and Turkish authorities would decide on the appropriate weapons to assemble on the platforms and install them. "We will deliver basic helicopters. It will be up to the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries [SSM] and the Turkish Aerospace Industries [TAI] to decide how to fill in the other equipment."
Orsi said the nine attack helicopters would be delivered in 2012, one year before AgustaWestland plans to begin delivery of the 51 T129s in the larger gunship program. He did not say how much the nine new choppers would cost, but defense analysts predict that the price for the nine naked helicopters could be less than $200 million. One defense official said AgustaWestland and TAI were expected to sign the contract for the nine choppers Thursday.
Utility helicopter programOn the nearly $4 billion planned Turkish program for joint production of 109 utility helicopters, mostly for the military and security forces, Orsi urged Ankara to choose his company in an ongoing competition with the U.S. company Sikorsky Aircraft.
AgustaWestland is proposing using the T149, a newly developed utility helicopter. Orsi said the T149's full prototype would have its first flight in January.
Sikorsky Aircraft is offering the T-70, the Turkish version of the S-70 Black Hawk International, which is in the inventories of dozens of countries worldwide including Turkey.
A top Sikorsky official announced in early October that his company had a fourfold benefit package worth billions of dollars to offer to Turkey. "If Turkey selects us for the 109-helicopter program, we will buy another 109 to be manufactured in Turkey and export them to third countries," Steve Estill, vice president for strategic partnerships at Sikorsky’s president's office, said at the time.
Sikorsky also is proposing to buy $1.3 billion worth of Turkish-made helicopter components, to set up a regional Black Hawk support base in Turkey and to invest in a future Turkish project to build a light utility helicopter, Estill said.
Orsi's press event for Turkish reporters Tuesday was designed to challenge Sikorsky's proposal. "Our competition is offering the manufacture under license of an already existing product," he said. "We are offering much, much more. We are offering Turkey the opportunity to become a joint developer of a brand new product. Turkey may become a real global helicopter player if it chooses us."
Orsi said nearly 8,000 utility helicopters are expected to be replaced with new ones in the world in upcoming decades, suggesting that his company's Turkish program could grab international orders for at least 800.
Assuming that each helicopter's acquisition price and its lifetime maintenance costs are both around $25 million, and the TUHP program takes orders for 800 platforms over the next 25-30 years, "this program would collect a total of $40 billion, half of which would go to Turkey," Orsi said.
Turkey's Defense Industry Executive Committee, the highest decision-making body on arms procurement, is expected to select the winner in December. The committee's members include Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul, Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner and Chief Procurement Officer Murad Bayar.
Turkey's Army, Navy, Air Force, Special Operations and Coast Guard commands are among the buyers of the first batch of military utility helicopters. TAI, Turkey's main aerospace manufacturer, will be the program's prime contractor. Several other Turkish firms also will take part in production.
Presently, the Turkish military uses several types of utility helicopters. The military has more than 100 S-70s, more than 100 older U.S.-made UH-1 Hueys, around 20 French-designed AS-532 Cougars and about 15 Russian Mi-17s