Julian Moxon/ANKARA

Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) has delivered the first locally assembled AS532 Eurocopter Cougar MK1 utility/ search and rescue helicopter to its forces. At the same time the government has again delayed a decision on the winner of the 145-aircraft attack helicopter contest.

The Cougar is the first of 30 to be supplied to the armed forces under a $450 million licence deal signed in 1997. The first two were provided by Eurocopter, the others being built locally by TAI. They will be added to 20 Cougars earlier bought from Eurocopter.

The Phenix 11 programme covers six utility and four search and rescue (SAR) machines for the Turkish land forces, six combat SAR and 14 SAR helicopters for the air force.

The first six machines will be delivered at a rate of one every two months, the rest at one a month. TAI will build the complete airframe and carry out acceptance testing, with contributions from several other Turkish companies including Tursas Engine Industries, which has signed a deal with Turbom‚ca to assemble the Makila turboshaft. TAI also has rights under the agreement to market locally built Cougars to regional armed forces.

Meanwhile, the winner of Turkey's $3.5 billion ATAK attack/ reconnaissance helicopter programme was due to be announced on 2 June. But the decision has been delayed for the third time pending what Turkey's President Bulent Ecevit said was a "need for further negotiations" with the three remaining contenders.

The Turkish Government's SSM weapons procurement agency was sent the "final best and final offers" from the three remaining contenders, Agusta offering the A129 Mangusta, Bell the AH-1Z King Cobra and Kamov/Israel Aircraft Industries the KA-50-2 Erdogan in late May. The Cobra, an earlier version of which is operated by Turkey, and the Erdogan are believed to be the frontrunners. The Eurocopter Tiger and Boeing AH-64D Apache were eliminated late last year.

The Turkish Government insists that suppliers guarantee TAI will be allowed to market licence-built attack helicopters in the region. So far, only Kamov/TAI have presented a "letter of assurance" for export clearance, but sources believe the US Congress has indicated privately that it would not block regional exports of locally built King Cobras.

Reports in Turkey say Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has appealed directly to Turkish prime minister Necdet Sezer for a decision favouring the Erdogan.

Production of the ATAK helicopters will be split into three batches, from November 2002 to January 2011.

Source: Flight International