Turkey in Urgent Quest for Helicopter Gunships
While it looks forward to accepting its first TAI/AgustaWestland T129 attack helicopter, Turkey is urgently seeking interim helicopter gunships in the face of increased terrorist actions by the PKK and other Kurdish separatist groups. The situation has become desperate as Turkey's current force of Bell AH-1W Cobras has fallen to just six operational aircraft, plus a few earlier single-engine Cobras.
Last October the U.S. agreed to sell nine surplus AH-1Ws to Turkey. This deal is still technically on the table, with delivery due to start next year. However, it has been reported that only two are available for delivery. To bolster the gunship force Turkey has turned once again to AgustaWestland, and on June 15 announced the purchase of nine off-the-shelf AW129s. The Italian factory has stated a delivery date some time in 2012, but Turkey is hoping that can be brought forward. Subsequently it transpired that Turkey is negotiating the lease of a further nine AW129s in a separate deal.
After a drawn-out process Turkey selected a version of the AW129 to satisfy its ATAK attack helicopter program in March 2007. Known as the T129, the helicopter is being assembled by TAI in Turkey. The prototype made its first flight in Italy on September 28 last year, but was lost in a nonfatal crash on March 19 this year. The interim acquisition and lease of up to 27 attack helicopters is likely to cause the T129 program schedule to slip beyond the stated 2013 in-service date.