November 6, 2011:
The United States has agreed to sell Turkey three AH-1W helicopter gunships. Three years ago Turkey asked the United States for a dozen AH-1Ws. The Turks wanted the gunships real fast; like immediately. Turkey was (and still is) heavily involved in a campaign along the Iraqi border, against Kurdish PKK separatists. It has nine AH-1Ws (obtained in the 1990s), and they are being worked hard. At first the U.S. indicated that this could be done. But then the U.S. Marine Corps, the major American user of the AH-1W, indicated that it was using its choppers heavily, refurbishing others, and had none to spare.
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 water corrosion. The U.S. Marine Corps is in the process of doing a major upgrade on its AH-1T/Ws. 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 Viper models. This upgrade will give the aircraft a new 4 bladed composite rotor system, transmission, strengthened structural components, and modern digital cockpit avionics. These models have started to enter service.
Meanwhile, Turkey has sought other sources. Three years ago, Turkey turned to Italy and ordered 60 A129 helicopter gunships (called T129s for the Turkish version). These are to begin arriving next year. Turkey still relies on a fleet of about two dozen elderly American AH-1 gunships, which are being worn out because of intense operations against the PKK.
For the last two years, Turkey has been trying to get some Mangusta A129 helicopter gunships as quickly as possible, as in right away. This did not work out. Until recently, the U.S. was not willing to make a major effort to get Turkey more AH-1s, not in light of how hostile Turkey has been toward the United States over the last eight years. So Turkey became friendlier towards the U.S., and that helped get the three AH-1Ws. With the U.S. out of Iraq, the marines can now spare a few gunships.
This gunship shortage is a problem of Turkey's own making. Four years ago, after over a decade of evaluating, negotiating, haggling and delays, Turkey decided to buy 50 A129 Mangusta (Mongoose) helicopter gunships, for about $32 million each, with an option to buy 40 more later. That deal then fell apart, and was resurrected three years ago.
The latest version of the Italian A129 is roughly comparable to the upgraded versions of the U.S. AH-1 (especially the AH-1 SuperCobra). The 4.6 ton A-129 was the first helicopter gunship designed and built in Western Europe, and was introduced in the 1980s. While it has been upgraded frequently, the only customer so far has been Italy, which bought 60 of them. The manufacturer, Agusta/Westland, has been desperate to get an export customer.