ANKARA - Turkey will launch urgent talks to buy nine A129 Mangusta attack helicopters from the Italian-British manufacturer AgustaWestland to fight separatist Kurds operating in an area near the country's borders with Iraq and Iran, a key Turkish official announced late Tuesday.
"In an effort to meet the urgent needs of the Turkish Land Forces Command and as part of the ongoing attack helicopter program, negotiations for the procurement of an additional nine attack helicopters will be launched with TUSAS," Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul told reporters after a meeting of the Defense Industry Executive Committee, Turkey's highest decision-making body on procurement.
TUSAS is the Turkish name for the Turkish Aerospace Industries, the prime contractor in Ankara's program to jointly manufacture at least 50 attack helicopters with AgustaWestland. The nine helicopters will come in addition to the 50 choppers to be jointly manufactured. The additional nine gunships to be procured are A129 Mangustas, a senior procurement official said.
The Defense Industry Executive Committee's members include Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gonul, Gen. Ilker Basbug, chief of the General Staff, and Murad Bayar, head of Turkey's procurement agency. .
Bayar's office, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, and AgustaWestland signed a multibillion-dollar contract in 2008 for joint production of 50 T129s, a Turkish version of the A129.
The Kurdish separatist group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), has killed scores of soldiers since it stepped up attacks on Turkish targets in the spring.
The Turkish Army operates six AH-1W Super Cobras and more than 20 earlier model Cobra helicopters, and military officials in recent years have voiced an urgent need for additional gunships to fight the PKK.
The T129s are expected to become operational by 2014. The latest announcement for additional gunships represents a stopgap solution until the first deliveries.