Tuesday, 15 November 2011

US-Turkey helicopter deal approved

The US Congress has given final approval to sell three attack helicopters to Turkey's military, in another indication that the bilateral relationship is back on track.

The sale of three AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters, drawn from the Marine Corps inventory, has been on the table for some time. There was some opposition in the House, spearheaded by Democratic congressmen, who said that they were "deeply concerned by Turkey’s increased saber rattling, its threats against Israel, its outlook toward the European Union, its occupation of Cyprus and its unrelenting blockade of Armenia”.

Israel aside, there's nothing new in that list, certainly that's not stopped previous US Administrations from selling weaponry to Turkey and closely cooperating in the military-technical sphere. Like so many critics, the objections also seem to overlook the rather salient fact that Ankara remains a fully paid-up member of NATO, a vital partner in post-American Iraq and soon to be the host of an anti-Iranian missile defence system.

The $111 million sale will give Ankara a fillip in its renewed fight against the PKK. According to Hürriyet, Turkey purchased ten Super Cobras in the 1990s but only six are now operational, so the new acquisition will help to restore the military’s airborne capabilities.

A shortage of helicopters is a serious Achilles’ heel in taking the fight to the PKK’s mountain hideouts, and Turkish Aerospace Industries is working with Italy’s AgustaWestland to produce over 50 T-129 attack choppers to the tune of $3.2 billion.

The Super Cobra sale is a direct quid pro quo for hosting the missile shield, but it’s also just the prelude to a much more significant sale: of armed Predator and Reaper drones. If the impasse between Turkey and Israel continues, the Pentagon and pro-Turkish groups on Capitol Hill are going to have a fight on their hands to secure that particular prize.

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