January 30, 2008:
Turkey wants another
dozen helicopter gunships from the United States, and wants them real fast.
Like now. Turkey is heavily involved in a campaign along the Iraqi border,
against Kurdish PKK separatists. It has nine AH-1Ws, and they are being worked
hard. The seven ton AH-1W is an upgrade of the Vietnam era AH-1. The new model
was configured for naval use, and has two engines and protection against sea
The major user of the AH-1W, the U.S.
Marine Corps, is in the process of remanufacturing its AH-1T/W attack helicopter. Most of these
aircraft were originally manufactured in the 1970's, with some 44 AH-1W models
built in the 1980's. The goal of this program is not only to deliver a much
more capable aircraft, but also to have an 84 percent commonality of parts
between the two, thus greatly reducing maintenance costs. The goal is to
remanufacture 180 AH-1T/W attack helos into AH-1Z Vipers models. This upgrade
will give the aircraft a new 4 bladed composite rotor system, transmission,
strengthened structural components, and modern digital cockpit avionics. The
first ones will enter service next year.
Taiwan is the other major user of the
AH-1W, having bought 63 of them. The U.S. Marine Corps could deliver a dozen
AH-1Ws to Turkey on short notice, if the United States believed it is worth the
effort to be nice to Turkey. In 2003, Turkey refused to allow American forces
to advance into Turkey from Iraq, and has never been happy with U.S. (and
British) support of autonomous Kurds in northern Iraq. The Turks know all this,
and are waiting to see which way the request will go. If the Turks get the
gunships, the U.S. will expect the Turks to return a favor down the road.