ANKARA — Turkey's aerospace powerhouse, Tusas Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), is seeking export deals for the country's first indigenous gunship, but it must win US export licenses for any future deal.
The T129 attack helicopter, developed by TAI under license from the Finmeccanica company AgustaWestland, is powered by the LHTEC CTS800, the commercial and export version of the T800 turboshaft rotary aircraft engine made by the Light Helicopter Turbine Engine Company (LHTEC), a joint venture between UK-based Rolls-Royce and US-based Honeywell.
CTS800 powered the AgustaWestland Super Lynx 300 and ShinMaywa US-2 aircraft and also has been selected for the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat and Lynx Mk. 9A helicopters.
"We have been engaged in preliminary [and unofficial] talks through procurement and diplomatic channels to secure an export license in case we sign an export deal soon," said a senior Turkish procurement official familiar with the attack helicopter program, referred to as ATAK in Turkey. "The initial [US] reaction was positive. I believe that we'll come to a deal [on export licenses] sooner or later."
A weapon systems manufacturer can apply to obtain US export licenses only after an export contract has been signed with a buyer country. And if Washington grants export licenses to a US company for the sale of a specific system to a specific country, it grants the same license to a non-US company that builds the same system and wants to sell it to the same buyer country.
TAI has not yet made a formal application to obtain US export licenses because "any such application can be made only after a contract has been signed," a senior TAI official said. TAI has not yet signed any T129 export deal but has been in promising negotiations with potential buyers in the Arabian Gulf region, the Caucasus and Southeast Asia, he said.
TAI also hopes to sell its T129 chopper to Poland. At the latest IDEF show in Istanbul in May 5-8, TAI signed two memoranda of understanding with Polish companies MESKO and WCBKT to cooperate on KRUK, Poland's attack helicopter program.
Last year the Polish government issued a request for information for its planned acquisition of 32 attack helicopters. TAI, European company Airbus Helicopters, and US companies Bell Helicopter and Boeing expressed experssed interest in the KRUK program.
At home, TAI began T129 deliveries to the Turkish Army in April 2014 and will ultimately deliver 59 of the helicopter gunships. TAI officials say T129 is 97 percent Turkish produced.
In June, TAI also selected the CTS800 to power a light helicopter it has been developing under a contract with Turkey's procurement authority, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, since 2013. TAI says its Turkish Light Utility Helicopter will be developed for the commercial market initially but later versions will also have military use. The planned utility helicopter's engine will feature a commercialized full-authority digital engine control (FADEC). TAI hopes to export the utility helicopter, too.
A Turkish aerospace industry source said the chances for gaining US export licenses for the T129 are good.
"There is a multidimensional industry cooperation, and every TAI sale to third countries would be commercially welcomed by the US, depending, of course, on the buyer country," he said. "The good thing is that none of the countries TAI is in talks [with] in order to sell the T129 is politically problematic for the [US] administration."