Last Friday Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced that his government had signed a $3.5 billion contract with Sikorsky for the co-production of 109 T-70 utility transport helicopters, based on the Sikorsky S-70i International Black Hawk. The announcement comes nearly three years after Turkey had declared the T-70 as its preferred choice for the TUHP (Turkey utility helicopter program) requirement, and some seven months after it had been revealed that there were to be delays in finally putting pen to paper.
Turkey first opened its TUHP requirement in 2005, and by 2008 Turkish Aerospace Industries had been selected as the prime contractor for a co-production effort with another manufacturer. As TUHP grew in scope to include aircraft for parapublic agencies as well as military forces, the competition settled to a contest between Sikorsky’s S-70i and the AgustaWestland AW149. Although a selection was initially expected in 2009, it was not until April 22, 2011, that the Turkish government revealed that it had chosen the Sikorsky product. This came as a blow to AgustaWestland, which was offering co-development work on the new AW149, and which was already collaborating with TAI on the T-129 Atak attack helicopter.
Under the terms of the agreement with Sikorsky, TAI will assemble the aircraft in Turkey from components provided by various partners, including Sikorsky itself. TAI is to build the cabin, rotors and cockpit, while TEI will build the General Electric T700 turboshafts under license. Aselsan is developing the avionics suite, while Turkish Black Hawk specialist ALP Aviation will construct the undercarriage and transmission.
Turkey currently operates more than 100 S-70s that were supplied directly from Sikorsky. The TUHP contract covers 109 new T-70 helicopters, with an initial option for 12 more. They will be delivered to a number of organizations to augment or supersede existing fleets. Military users will be the army, navy and air force, plus special operations command and electronic systems command. Others will go to parapublic agencies such as the gendarmerie, national police and the environment ministry. The latter are to be outfitted as Firehawks for fighting forest fires.
The initial TUHP order may be just the beginning of a larger program to replace and expand Turkey’s utility helicopter fleet, and could ultimately grow to several hundred T-70s. Furthermore, experience from this program will help with a new indigenous light helicopter project for a five-metric-ton twin-engine machine that was launched last June with TAI as main contractor.