The ink was still drying on Turkey’s deal with Pakistan for 30 T129 tactical reconnaissance and attack helicopters (ATAKs) when it appeared US sanctions could jeopardise the sale. Alan Warnes reports.
US export licenses could be declined for the ATAK’s T800 turboshaft engines produced by the Light Helicopter Turbine Engine Company (LHTEC), a joint venture between Rolls-Royce and US company, Honeywell.
After trying to close the Pakistan Army contract for eight years, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), thought its biggest export deal had finally been nailed.
But US President Donald Trump had already suspended all security assistance with Pakistan on January 4, “until it takes action against the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network terror groups”.
Trump accused Pakistan of “deceit and lies” when working with the US Government.
It led to the first three of 12 Boeing-Bell AH-1Z Vipers destined for the Pakistan Army being halted. The helicopters had been flying and personnel were being trained in the US when everything was stopped.
Four months later, the Pakistan and Turkish governments agreed a deal on the 30 ATAKs, which would replace the obsolete and outdated Pakistan Army AH-1F/S Cobras.
Both Turkey and Pakistan are still confident that Trump’s sanctions won’t affect their business.
There is better news on the domestic front, however, with 86 T129 ATAKs on order – 59 for the Turkish Land Command (TLAC), 18 for the Gendarmerie General Command (GGC) and nine for the Polis.
A formal ceremony was held on April 19 to mark the introduction of the first three T129s for the GGC.
The attack helicopters will boost the service’s close air support capability, while also being used for intelligence gathering and reconnaissance. They are expected to be operated close to the border with Iraq, where Turkey has an ongoing war with fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (KWP).
By mid-July 36 T129s had been delivered, 33 to the TLAC and three for the GGC.
This year’s Farnborough International Airshow in July saw the first public appearance of TAI’s proposed Hurjet jet trainer, albeit in mock-up form.
According to TAI’s corporate marketing and vice president, Tamer Ozman, the single-engine jet is expected to make its first flight in 2022 and the first should enter Turkish Air Force service in 2025.
“We want to produce an aircraft that fits in between the Hurkus basic trainer and the fifth-generation Turkish Fighter (TF) that will fly in 2023. The Hurjet advanced jet trainer will fill that gap,” he said.
The Turkish Government announced on July 22, the day after Farnborough ended, that TAI, the Undersecretariat for the Defence Industries (SSM), and the Turkish Air Force had signed the Hurjet project protocol agreement on July 2. The document agreed that there would be five Hurjet prototypes, manufactured in two different configurations – an advanced jet trainer (AJT) and a light combat aircraft (LCA).
TAI intends to supply a jet that will allow fighter pilots to move seamlessly from the turboprop trainer to the jet. The T-38s that TAI upgraded between 2011-2016 will not be able to soldier on much past 2023.
The US Air Force is already planning to buy around 350 dual-seat jet trainers to replace its T-38Cs that were upgraded in the late-90s. Under its T-X programme, Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries have teamed up to offer the T-50A; Boeing and Saab are collaborating on a clean sheet design; while Leonardo is offering a version of its M-346 trainer known as the T-100.
But TAI is set to offer an international traffic in arms regulations (ITAR)-free solution that will help it boost its new engineering, development and engineering skills. It knows what the solution is, as Ozman explained: “It will be a 5-6 ton class aircraft, similar in size to the F-16, with a 13 metre fuselage, 10 metre wingspan and 4 metres high. It will be powered by an engine that will allow it to go supersonic, at around Mach 1.2.”
The search is now ongoing for an engine, which is likely to include the usual suspects like General Electric (GE), Rolls-Royce and Safran. They all offered options to power the TF, with Rolls-Royce the likeliest to emerge as winner given the keenness of the UK Government to play a part in developing the new fighter.
Overseeing the selection is the newly established domestic company, TR Motor, tasked to design and manufacture Turkey’s military jet engines. Set up by SSM, TR Motor now has its work cut out with the search, development and integration of the powerplants for both the TF and Hurjet projects.
The Hurjet will also call upon Turkish avionics and weapons, and initially act as a lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT) for the F-16 and maybe the F-35, as well as TF.
Just like the Hurkus, there will also be a light attack variant, known as the Hurjet-C. According to Ozman, it will incorporate all the systems to satisfy the light attack aircraft requirements of the modern warfare, which will include a radar.
According to TAI, the Hurjet-C will have an “extensive payload” capacity of 6,000lbs that will include locally built 250lb, 500lb, 1,000lb conventional and guided munitions.
There is also set to be a conformal gunpod, targeting pod, and within visual range (WVR) and beyond visual range (BVR) missiles.
Aselsan and Havelsan are both set to figure highly in the aircraft’s development.
The new jet trainer was initially being funded by TAI, but the July 2 protocol agreement seems to have changed that. “We are looking for partners and believe there is a big market,” Ozman added
Questioned about Qatar’s possible involvement, given that it has so many fighters on order (36 Rafales, 36 F-15QAs and 24 Eurofighters), Ozman would only say that they have been talking to Qatar about LIFT and a light attack aircraft.
TAI announced at Farnborough that six Anka-S medium altitude long endurance (MALE) systems had been delivered to the Turkish Air Force.
All six systems, handed over in February, March and April, can be controlled simultaneously via satellite. Each has two air vehicles thought to be equipped with the FLIR Systems Star SAFIRE 380HLD payload rather than the Aselsan-developed common aperture targeting system (CATS) planned for the Anka.
Meanwhile, the Anka-B has entered service with Turkish Naval Forces Command (TNFC) at Dalaman Naval Air Base.
TAI is believed to be operating the Anka-B under a lease contract, with the first operational flight over the Aegean Sea taking place on March 27. The gendarmerie and army are also expected to take deliveries of the Anka-B in the future.
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