Warplanes: Desperate Measures


November 16, 2010: Turkey has ordered another nine Italian A129 helicopter gunships, but only if they can be delivered within two years. This is in addition to 51 A129s (called T129s for the Turkish version) already on order, which will be delivered after 2012. This is all because Turkey is in desperate need of more helicopter gunships. They have found this type of aircraft particularly useful against Kurdish separatists (the PKK) operating in southeastern Turkey.

Currently, Turkey relies on a fleet of about two dozen elderly American AH-1 gunships, which are being worn out because of intense operations against the PKK. For most of this year, Turkey has been trying to get some Mangusta A129 helicopter gunships as quickly as possible. At one point, the Turks were seeking to lease an additional nine A129s from the Italian manufacturer (or anyone else who will make a deal). The Turks have also asked the United States for another nine American AH-1W gunships. The A129 manufacturer said it would take two years to deliver the new A129s, but the Turks hoped that leased ones could be obtained in less than a year. This did not work out. In addition, the U.S. was not willing to make a major effort to get Turkey more AH-1s, not in light of how hostile Turkey has been toward the United States over the last seven years. Finally, the Turks accepted the two year A129 delivery, but only on condition that the sale was only good if they got them by 2012.

This gunship shortage is a problem of Turkey's own making. Three years ago, after over a decade of evaluating, negotiating, haggling and delays, Turkey decided to buy 50 A129 Mangusta (Mongoose) helicopter gunships, for about $32 million each, with an option to buy 40 more later. That deal then fell apart, and was recently resurrected as a plan whereby at least 51 A129s would be built in Turkey (along with some technology transfer.) The latest deals waive a lot of the co-production (building A129s in Turkey). The Turks just want the gunships as quickly as possible.

The latest version of the Italian A129 is roughly comparable to the upgraded versions of the U.S. AH-1 (especially the AH-1 SuperCobra). The 4.6 ton A-129 was the first helicopter gunship designed and built in Western Europe, and was introduced in the 1980s. While it has been upgraded frequently, the only customer so far has been Italy, which bought 60 of them. The manufacturer, Agusta/Westland, has been desperate to get an export customer.

Given the delays in selecting a supplier, who was buying, and who was selected, there were probably some bribes involved once the Turks finally selected the A129. Agusta was the only manufacturer to stick with the baffling Turkish procurement process, and was finally forced to basically turn over manufacture of the A129 to the Turks, to get the sale. But after about fifteen years of this procurement madness, the Turks find themselves in desperate need of some new gunships, and are seeking help from Agusta, or anyone else, to bail them out.



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