Thursday, July 1, 2010

Turkey to Get Two U.S. Helicopter Gunships

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To boost its firepower in its fight against Kurdish separatists, Turkey will obtain two AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters from the United States, Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said June 30.

Gonul said the U.S. Congress has endorsed the sale, and the helicopter gunships will be delivered to the Turkish Army by 2011, at the latest.

"We are forcing an earlier delivery ... ideally, this year," Gonul said. "The process for the delivery is working."

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) recently has stepped up its attacks against Turkish targets, forcing Turkish authorities to ponder better ways to fight. In less than two months, the PKK has killed more than 50 soldiers and civilians. The organization is classified by Turkey, the United States and the European Union as a terrorist entity.

Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama's administration agreed in principle to sell a number of Super Cobras to Turkey to help the NATO ally, which has been suffering from a shortage of helicopter gunships.

The Turkish Army currently operates six AH-1Ws and says it needs more in the short term, until it begins to receive new attack helicopters in 2014 or 2015. Turkey is jointly manufacturing those aircraft with AgustaWestland, an Italian-British company.

In January 2009, Turkey's defense procurement agency formally asked the U.S. government for the sale of less than 10 attack choppers. Bell Helicopter Textron, in Fort Worth, Texas, the maker of the Super Cobra, has ceased production of the AH-1W. It has started upgrading the U.S. Marine Corps' nearly 170 AH-1Ws to the Z model.

Since 2007, Turkey informally has been seeking to buy several Super Cobras in the Marine Corps inventory. But the administration of President George W. Bush opposed such a transfer, saying the Marines, involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, needed all of their choppers.
The Bush administration instead offered to Turkey the U.S. Army's AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter.

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