Umit ENGİNSOY & Burak Ege BEKDİL Defense News
ANKARA - Top European helicopter maker Eurocopter announced Wednesday that it will seek to become Turkey's key foreign partner in a program, worth more than $1 billion, to design, develop and manufacture hundreds of light utility helicopters, both military and civilian.
"We want to partner with Turkey in one of their top programs. The light utility helicopter program is a key project," said Thomas Hein, Eurocopter's vice president for sales and customer relations in Europe.
Light utility helicopters generally weigh between 4,500 and 5,500 kilograms. "We are developing our product range, and we would like to produce, with Turkey, a chopper from scratch," Hein said.
Under two multibillion-dollar contracts, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is co-producing with Italy's AgustaWestland 59 T-129 attack helicopters and jointly is making with Sikorsky Aircraft more than 100 T-70 utility helicopters, with a single copter weighing about 10,000 kilograms. To meet its heavy-lift helicopter needs, Ankara earlier this year signed a nearly $400 million contract with Boeing to buy six CH-47 Chinook choppers.
Therefore, light utility helicopters are the last major copter type Turkey wants to produce with a foreign company.
"In my personal view, all major helicopter producers in the world will seek this cooperation with Turkey," Hein said.
Formed in 1992 through the merger of the helicopter divisions of France's Aerospatiale and Germany's DASA, Eurocopter sold 20 AS 532 Cougar utility helicopters to Turkey's military and then co-produced with TAI 30 other Cougars. But since 2006, the company has been silent about major Turkish helicopter deals, and Wednesday's remarks by Hein, who is responsible for ties with Ankara, means Eurocopter is back in the Turkish market.
Although it mainly is a defense project, the light utility program also will manufacture many private and commercial copters. But the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), Turkey's procurement agency, has not formally announced the program. The Turkish government is expected to select a foreign partner in 2013. As a result, the number of helicopters to be produced and the financial size of the program are not clear, although the cost is expected to exceed $1 billion.
Although Eurocopter has developed tens of helicopter types in several categories, SSM insists on the development of a new type, and Hein said Eurocopter is ready to produce a new light helicopter with Turkey.
Eurocopter is part of European defense giant EADS.