Friday, September 11, 2009

Turkey Eyes Light Utility Helicopter Production

Turkey plans to develop and produce its own light utility helicopter over the next 10 years and is open to cooperation with other countries, Ankara's defense procurement agency said in its latest official report on strategy objectives.

"A program will be developed for the design, production and logistical support of a light utility helicopter with a take-off weight of between three and four tons," the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (Savunma Sanayii Mustesarligi, or SSM) said in its "Strategic Document for Defense Industry Between 2009 and 2016," a copy of which was obtained by Defense News.

"The program mainly will target the local market, but also will be open to cooperation with other nations," the SSM said. The program is due to have both military and civilian components.

The Turkish military operates hundreds of utility helicopters, including more than 100 S-70 Black Hawks made by U.S.-based Sikorsky Aircraft and more than 100 Vietnam War-era UH-1 Hueys.

Also, under an ongoing program, the Italian-British company AgustaWestland and Sikorsky are competing for joint production of more than 100 new utility platforms, worth more than $1 billion.

But most of these helicopters are medium in size, and Turkey's newly announced multibillion-dollar program targets manufacture of light utility platforms.

The SSM said it would welcome cooperation with "second countries" for the planned light utility helicopter program.

"Our assembly line will be based in Turkey, and an assembly line can be established for any interested second country," according to the SSM strategy document. "These potential second countries would be welcome to manufacture the fuselage of their platforms themselves, but their final assembly line would be located in Turkey.

"Parts of the engine to be selected will be produced and the engine's assembly will be performed in Turkey," the SSM said.

"Turkey believes it now has the necessary technology to manufacture its own small-sized utility helicopters," said one industry analyst in Ankara. "But eventually, indigenous design and development may prove to be too expensive."

To boost the Army's air transport capabilities, the SSM separately is negotiating with the United States a deal for the purchase of 10 Boeing-made CH-47 heavy-lift helicopters.

In the strategy document, the SSM also projects that Turkish defense companies will export defense equipment worth $1 billion per year by the end of 2010. Turkish defense exports totaled $576 million last year, SSM chief Murad Bayar earlier told Defense News.

The SSM particularly qualified Turkey's land vehicles production sector as an industry that could rapidly raise its export rate. Turkish land vehicle manufacturers exported vehicles worth $120 million in 2007 - a figure expected to reach $300 million annually by the end of 2010, it said.

By the end of 2010, the SSM said, nearly 50 percent of the defense systems requirements of the Turkish Armed Forces would be met locally in financial terms. This year, Turkey is spending about $5 billion for defense procurement.

The SSM was created within the National Defense Ministry in 1985 to oversee defense equipment purchases and help bolster the local defense industry.

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