ANKARA — After several months of negotiations, a $3.5 billion utility helicopter contract between the Turkish government and Sikorsky has taken effect, the program's prime Turkish contractor announced June 7.
In November 2015, Lockheed Martin acquired Sikorsky, replacing United Technologies as the American helicopter maker's parent company.
Turkey selected Sikorsky for the utility program in 2011 and signed a preliminary contract in 2014, but the Turkish and U.S. sides have bargained since then over U.S. export licenses for the planned utility helicopter, the T-70 Black Hawk, which will come in two different configurations. The T-70 is the Turkish version of the S-70 Black Hawk International.
Under the 10-year utility program, the T-70s will be delivered to six different users: the Land Forces, Air Force, General Command of Gendarmerie, Special Forces Command, General Directorate of Security and General Directorate of Forestry.
"The export licenses were the crucial part," said a senior TAI official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We expect over $1 billion in sales to third countries."
According to a procurement official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the T-70 has the potential to be one of Turkey's leading defense industry export products.
"There are already a number of countries emerging as strong markets," the official said.
A government official, who was not authorized to speak to the media and so spoke on condition of anonymity, said Ankara has been privately marketing the chopper to a number of politically friendly countries.
"We believe the T-70 has great export potential. It was not without reason why marketing activity took off even before we sorted out the export license issue," he said.
The T-70 contract involves the co-production in Turkey of an initial batch of 109 T-70 helicopters. But SSM says the total production figure could eventually reach 300 "in view of Turkey's future helicopter requirements."
Under the program, for every helicopter produced in Turkey, another will be exported. That puts the final production figure at 600 platforms.
Ozgur Eksi, an Ankara-based defense analyst with C4 Defence, said that "the numbers may not be totally convincing, given the uncertainties in the global future of this [utility] market. But the program looks feasible."
Eksi added that Ankara cared more about the technological capabilities its national aerospace company and other local subcontractors would earn from the program.
"Those capabilities are a strategic priority for the procurement bureaucracy," he said.
But some aerospace industry sources remain skeptical of that figure.
One London-based Turkey specialist said: "I am not sure if there will be such a large international demand for the Turkish-made Black Hawks."
Another western analyst stated that "what's critical for the Turkish viewpoint is not the numbers. … It will be the technological capabilities to be earned by the country's local industry."
Other key Turkish subcontractors are the military electronics specialist Aselsan, Tusas Engine Industries (TEI) and Alp Havacilik.
TEI will produce the T-700 engine for the T-70. Aselsan will design, develop and produce glass cockpit avionics for the Turkish utility helicopter. That cockpit will be used in all Black Hawks to be sold to foreign markets, except for the US army.
SSM expects that the Turkish industry will get 67 percent of the work share and earn $1.4 billion over a period of 30 years.
Burak Ege Bekdil is a Turkey correspondent for Defense News. He has written for Hurriyet Daily News, and worked as Ankara bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC-e television. He is also a fellow at the Middle East Forum and regularly writes for the Middle East Quarterly and Gatestone Institute.