ANKARA - Turkey has signed a government-to-government deal with the United States to buy six CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift transport helicopters, worth up to $400 million, a senior procurement official said.
The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Pentagon body that coordinates weapon sales, notified Congress of a potential sale of 14 CH-47F heavy-lift helicopters for $1.2 billion in December 2009, and Congress gave permission later that month.
But because of financial constraints, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), Turkey's arms procurement agency, later decided to buy only six CH-47Fs, five for the Army and one for the Special Forces Command, postponing a decision on the remaining eight aircraft. Contract negotiations among the SSM, the U.S. government and Chinook maker Boeing were launched last year.
"The contract was signed in late July," the procurement official said. "It was worth around $400 million. After the helicopters begin to arrive, we plan to make some modifications on them according to our needs."
The six CH-47F Chinooks will be the first heavy-lift helicopters in the Turkish Army's inventory. Their deliveries are expected to begin in 2013 and end in 2014.
"These helicopters have incredible capabilities. Three or four of them can transport a company-sized unit and its equipment to long distances only in a few hours," the procurement official said. The maximum speed of the CH-47F is about 312 kilometers an hour.
Developed in the 1960s, the Chinooks have been exported to many countries, including Australia, Britain, Canada, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Japan, Morocco, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
The Chinook has been successfully operated in combat in several wars and armed conflicts.
The Chinook is a twin-engine, twin-rotor helicopter. The counter-rotating rotors eliminate the need for an anti-torque vertical rotor, allowing all power to be used for lift and thrust.
The CH-47F is the upgraded version of the CH-47D, and is the latest model in this helicopter family. It can carry up to 60 troops and personnel.
A CH-47 Chinook was shot down by Taliban forces southwest of Kabul in Afghanistan in earlier this month, killing 30 U.S. troops, including 23 Navy SEALs, and eight Afghans.
"These are not unsafe devices. On the contrary, these helicopters had mission flights of thousands of hours in Afghanistan only this year, and this was the first such incident," the procurement official said.
Turkey usually manufactures its own defense equipment, or jointly produces it with foreign partners. But since the number of heavy-lift helicopters being ordered is rather small, SSM decided on direct procurement from a single source, i.e. Boeing. The heavy-lift helicopter program is expected to be among Turkey's last direct foreign procurement projects.