Turkey Launches $700M Helicopter Competition
Helicopters are a hot field right now. The USA’s $2.2 billion Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program has been awarded to Bell, which is also competing with Eurocopter for India’s $500-600 million light helicopter program. The USA’s own Light Utility Helicopter program is set to begin competition for 320 helicopters soon, and now Turkish Daily News reports that Turkey’s Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM) has formally opened an international competition for the purchase of 32 military helicopters and 20 fire fighters worth around $700 million. Only one platform will chosen, winner take all.
The purchase will be administered by SSM in a single package for both military and civilian helicopters, and bidders are asked to reply to a request for proposa1 no later than Dec. 5.
The fire fighters will be used by the Forestry General Directorate. The lion’s share of the military shopping bag will go to the Turkish Army with 20 helicopters, while the Air Force and the Navy will receive 6 helicopters each.
An SSM official said he expected several foreign manufacturers to show up for the competition, and analysts see the major contenders as S-70 Black Hawk manufacturer Sikorsky Aireraft Corp. and Eurocopter’s majority-owned NH Industries in Aix-en-Provence, France with their Eurocopter NH-90.
Turkey currently operates a number of helicopter models.
Sikorsky won a $450 million deal against Eurocopter and sold 45 Black Hawks to the Army in 1992.
Two years later, Eurocopter was awarded a nearly $250 million contract to jointly produce 20 EC725 Cougars for the Air Force together with Turkish firm Tusas Aerospace Industries Ine. (TAI), best known for co-producing Turkey’s F-16 fighter jets with Lockheed Martin in the late 1980s and 1990s.
In a 1999 agreement with Sikorsky, the Turkish Army purchased a second batch of 50 Black Hawks worth nearly $500 million. An additional $390 million deal from the Turkish Navy for 12 S-70B Seahawk naval helicopters was recently covered by DID, but the deal apparently hinges on the reactivation of an earlier loan by the U.S. Ex-Im Bank.
Turkey also bought 19 Mi-17 utility helicopters from Russia during the 1990s, and still operates more than 100 older UH-1 Huey helicopters manufactured by U.S. Bell Helicopter Textron.
Given the S-70 Black Hawk’s positive reviews by the Turkish Army and recent selection by the Turkish Navy, many analysts give Sikorsky the inside track for this contract as well. Some analysts say the NH-90 is a much better but more expensive option, however, with significantly improved cargo capacity that offers advantages in both its military transport and firefighter roles.
Ultimately, Turkey may have to choose between two different categories, prices – and political decisions. It certainly isn’t lost on Turkey that the prospect of a substantial Eurocopter order will serve as an implicit negotiating level re: its EU bid. Conversely, any political difficulties with Brussels could well turn an uphill sale for Eurocopter into an impossible one.
It’s also important to note that the bids are not yet submitted, and the final contenders not yet revealed. If Sikorsky believes that the capabilities of the NH-90 give Eurocopter an advantage in this competition, they have an ace card of their own. They can always offer Turkey the option of either more S-70 Black Hawks or the H-92 Superhawk, which retains significant commonality with the Black Hawk family but offers very similar size and performance to the NH-90.
The new utility platform program comes at a time when Turkey is involved in two other ambitious helicopter deals. One is the recent S-70 Seahawk purchase by the Turkish Navy, mentioned earlier.
The other is Turkey’s on-again, off-again multi-billion-dollar attack helicopter program to buy up to 50 helicopter gunships (reduced from the original 145).
SSM is awaiting bids by several foreign contenders by mid-September 2005, including Bell Textron AH-1Z Super Cobra and the ultra-advanced Ka-50-2 Erdogan (trans: “born to be a man”).
The Erdogan is a 1997 Kamov-IAI joint venture that revolves around a modified version of the Ka-50 Black Shark, also known as “Werewolf” or by its NATO reference name “Hokum.” The Erdogan is a tandem cockpit twin-seater variant that features modern Israeli “glass cockpit” avionics, and a turret-mounted folding 30mm cannon as opposed to the fixed 23mm cannon of the Ka-50. The Black Shark is generally considered to be the most advanced attack helicopter in the world, but owing to Russian budgetary difficulties production has been very limited thus far. The Erdogan was proposed before the initial failure of the attack helicopter procurement process, and the failure of the AH-1Z contract to close may give this option new life.