The first flight, conducted by Turkish Aerospace Industries’ (TAI) test pilots, of the T129 “P6” prototype helicopter has timely and successfully been completed at TAI’s facilities in Akıncı, Ankara, the company said today
The ATAK Program was initiated with the aim to meet the Attack/Tactical Reconnaissance Helicopter requirements of the Turkish Land Forces Command (TLF) by the integration of high-tech avionics equipment, hardware and software being developed ‘in-house’ by Turkey.
The first flight of the P6 prototype marks an important milestone in the ATAK Program and is the first of three T129 prototypes which are being assembled in Turkey.
The helicopter is based on the Agusta Westland A129 Mongoose which has been the mainstay of the Italian army and has been operational and battle-proven in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The T-129 ATAK is an enhanced version of the Italian-built A129, and its development is now the responsibility of TAI, with AgustaWestland as the primary partner.
The original prototype being built in Italy crashed in March 2010 during a test flight, leaving its Italian test pilot and its test engineer needing hospital treatment for minor injuries.
Turkey originally planned to order 51 A129s with 40 options back in 2007 but the following year Turkey undertook to fully build the platform.
Under the agreement, TAI has integrated an indigenous mission computer, avionics, weapons systems, self-protection suites and the helmet-mounting cuing systems. TUSAS Engine Industries (TEI) is manufacturing the LHTEC CTS800-4N engines under licence. Under the agreement, Turkey has full marketing and intellectual property rights for the T-129 platform. There are also no restrictions imposed on Turkey for the export or transfer of the platform to third countries other than Italy and the UK.
China’s first aircraft carrier sailed out of the northeastern port of Dailan for sea trials Wednesday morning, the state-run news agency Xinhua reported.
China has spent nearly a decade refurbishing the 67,000-ton, 300-meter ship, begun by the former Soviet Union but never completed.
Xinhua quoted military sources as saying the trials would be brief, and the carrier would return to Dailan for further refits.
China once renounced aircraft carriers as tools of imperialism, but has been developing a blue-water navy in recent years, along with air power to back it up.
The Varyag was originally intended to serve in the Pacific Fleet of the Soviet Navy in 1993, but the disintegration of the Soviet Union scuttled those plans. The care of the Varyag soon fell on China.
In 1998, a Chinese company purchased the ship at auction at the cost of $20 million. Unexpectedly, the Turkish government denied the carrier passage through the Bosporus Strait. The Chinese government negotiated with them, and finally the Varyag came to China and started its new life.
Russia has drawn up a list of U.S. officials to be barred from entering the country in response to U.S. visa restrictions imposed on Russian officials over the death of a lawyer, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.
If the report by the business daily Kommersant is confirmed, the decision will be the latest of several signs in the past few weeks that the “reset” aimed at improving U.S.-Russian relations under U.S. President Barack Obama is under threat.
“In the case of the United States we will simply put a cross next to the names of those who are not wanted. When a person applies for a visa at a Russian consulate he will be rejected,” a Foreign Ministry source told Kommersant.
Reuters could not immediately reach the Foreign Ministry for comment but Interfax news agency quoted a ministry source as saying Russia was still working on its response.
“There could be lists of Americans barred from entering Russia, but the issue is still being worked on,” the source told Interfax.
The U.S. State Department said last month it had placed visa restrictions on Russian officials accused of involvement in the death of hedge fund lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison as he awaited trial on tax evasion and fraud charges in 2009.
The Kremlin’s human rights council said the 37-year-old lawyer, who represented Hermitage Capital equity fund, was possibly beaten to death. His colleagues say the charges were fabricated by police investigators he had accused of cheating the state through fraudulent tax returns.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said last month the U.S. visa restrictions were unjustified and that it would respond with “adequate measures”, but gave no details.
The Pakistan Army has included Chinese troops for the first time in exercises that were conducted along the border with the Indian states of Punjab and Rajasthan, Indian Defence Ministry sources said.
The 101 Engineering Regiment of China’s People’s Liberation Army is taking part in the exercises, the sources added. No Defence Ministry official has publicly commented on the exercises, but Indian Army officials privately have expressed great concern.
Indian military strategy calls for the capability to fight Pakistan and China simultaneously. While Indian defense officials admit India will spend $100 billion in the next 10 years on weapons and equipment, military analysts here say that figure could well reach $150 billion, given plans to prepare for both Pakistan and China.
New Delhi claims China has been helping Pakistan build its nuclear arsenal along with delivery systems. Pakistan buys a variety of weapons, aircraft and equipment from China, including airborne warning aircraft, fighter jets and precision-guided munitions.
Recent sales of Chinese conventional weapons to Pakistan include JF-17 fighters along with production facilities, F-22P frigates with helicopters, K-8 trainer jets, T-85 tanks, F-7 aircraft, small arms and ammunition. Pakistan also is seeking to buy 36 Chinese-made J-10 fighters.
Pakistan also has sought Chinese help to build nuclear-capable missiles near Rawalpindi, Indian Defence Ministry sources said.
Chinese state media on Monday blamed Washington’s huge military spending and global footprint for the crisis that led to the U.S. debt rating downgrade, calling for an end to the foreign “domineering” dragging down its economy.
Sharpening their rhetoric over the economic crisis that has sent markets into a tailspin, the Chinese state-run media lambasted both Europe and the United States for the dysfunctions of their democracies and their unsustainable appetite for spending.
The Xinhua news agency also warned the United States against trying to boost exports and growth by letting the dollar weaken, which would have a dramatic impact on China as about 70 percent of its massive reserves stockpile is invested in dollar assets.
Time to pay back
One analyst, Yuan Peng, said the unusually blunt attack on the West probably reflected concern among Chinese leaders, facing pressure from popular opinion and the media, to deflect blame for any negative fall-out of the crisis on the country’s holdings of U.S. assets.
“Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States, as the world’s sole superpower, has relied on its powerful military to meddle everywhere in international affairs, advancing hegemony, and paying no heed to whether the economy can support this,” said a commentary issued by China’s Xinhua news agency, which noted the heavy bills for America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Now is the right time for the United States, trapped in economic hardship, to reflect on its domineering thinking and deeds,” said Xinhua, urging Washington to “change its policies of interference abroad”.
Leaders do not speak
China is spending heavily on its 2.3-million-strong armed forces. At about $93.5 billion for 2011, China’s defenSe budget is still dwarfed by that of the United States. In February the Pentagon rolled out a record base budget for fiscal year 2012 of $553 billion, though the Obama administration is now looking to trim military spending.
The media comments do not amount to a definitive response to the debt downgrade from China’s leaders, who may tread a more careful public line, knowing their comments could stoke market alarm and a political backlash in the United States.
Officials have been mute about the blow to Washington after Standard and Poor’s stripped the United States of its top-tier AAA credit rating. However, media have decried the potential damage to China’s growth and huge holdings of U.S. Treasury assets. “It must be understood that if the U.S., Europe and other advanced economies fail to shoulder their responsibility and continue their incessant messing around over selfish interests, this will seriously impede stable development of the global economy,” said a commentary in the People’s Daily newspaper, the chief mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party.
“People have deepening misgivings about the political decisiveness of the Western nations, and this has also seriously hurt global investors’ confidence in world economic recovery, exacerbating market turmoil.”
A separate Xinhua commentary also warned Washington against seeking to boost exports and growth by letting the dollar weaken, a move that would lower the value of Beijing’s assets.
China owns the world’s biggest stockpile of foreign exchange reserves at $3.2 trillion, and is also the biggest foreign buyer of U.S. Treasuries. Analysts estimate about 70 percent of its reserves are invested in dollar assets, including Treasuries, although the exact investment mix has not been disclosed.
“From this point, the U.S. has every motive to maintain a weak dollar,” said an English-language commentary from Xinhua. “Before the U.S. makes any move, please remind it: don’t forget your responsibility as the issuer of reserve currency to maintain the stable value of the dollar.”
Russia cautioned the U.S. and its NATO allies Aug. 8 against plans to extend an anti-missile shield into northern European seas.
On a visit to Norway, Russia’s ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin deplored the lack of any firm guarantees from the alliance that American ships fitted with anti-missile technology would not be deployed in northern waters.
“The very fact of deploying U.S. military missile defense infrastructure in the Northern seas is a real provocation with regard to the process of nuclear disarmament”, said Rogozin at a press conference.
“Why is no one giving guarantees that a U.S. fleet equipped with Aegis interceptor systems won’t be deployed in the Northern seas?” he said.
“I’m sure that if there were no such plans in reality, then I would have been given a very definite negative answer. I didn’t get any firm answer to this question,” he said, adding that Russia had repeatedly asked the U.S. for answers.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed at a NATO summit in November to explore the possibility of cooperating on a system to protect Europe’s population from the threat of ballistic missiles from countries such as Iran.
Fearing that the system would undermine its nuclear deterrent, Moscow has since been demanding a legally binding guarantee that the missile shield would not be aimed at Russia.
Rogozin also called on Norway’s foreign affairs minister, Jonas Gahr Stoere, to oppose the plan.
“The countries that are going to join in participating in these plans are going to share the responsibility like the initiators of that project,” he said, warning Europe “not to hide behind the back of the United States.”
Despite the lack of consensus, NATO adopted a plan to forge ahead with the shield in June.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who is overseeing continuing talks between NATO defense ministers and Russia, said he was optimistic that a deal on guarantees could be reached in time for the next NATO summit hosted by the United States in May 2012.
The missile shield project will not be completed before 2018, NATO officials estimate.
China has demanded that the United States stop spy plane flights near the Chinese coast, saying they have “severely harmed” trust between the two countries, state-run media reported July 27.
The comments came after Taiwanese media reported two Chinese fighter jets attempted to scare off an American U-2 reconnaissance plane that was collecting intelligence on China while flying along the Taiwan Strait in late June.
Beijing’s defense ministry said the U.S. must discontinue such flights, calling them a “major obstacle” as the two Pacific powers try to put a series of military disputes behind them, China’s Global Times reported.
The flights “severely harmed” mutual trust, the paper quoted the ministry as saying.
“We demand that the U.S. respects China’s sovereignty and security interests, and take concrete measures to boost a healthy and stable development of military relations,” it added.
The ministry declined immediate comment when contacted by AFP.
Washington has said in the past that its reconnaissance flights are conducted in international airspace and will continue.
Sino-U.S. military relations have been plagued in recent years by periodic tensions stemming from U.S. plans for arms sales to Taiwan and naval standoffs in the disputed South China Sea.
Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory and refuses to abandon the possibility of taking the self-ruled island by force. The two sides split at the end of a civil war.
The United States recognizes Beijing and not Taipei, but provides military support to Taiwan.
In the June encounter, one of the Chinese Sukhoi SU-27 fighters crossed over the Taiwan Strait’s middle line, widely considered to be the boundary between Taiwan’s airspace and that of the Chinese mainland, Taiwanese media have reported.
One of the Chinese jets did not leave until two Taiwanese planes were sent to intercept it, the island’s United Daily News reported.
Washington is mulling a bilateral exchange of defense officials with Beijing to keep communication lines open, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen wrote in the New York Times this week.
Mullen, the top American military official, earlier this month became the first chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff since 2007 to visit China, as the two sides seek to mend ties.
Turkey’s naval programs are expected to gain prominence after the appointment of a maritime expert as the country’s new defense minister, procurement officials said.
There may also be a reshuffle of personnel at the procurement office, excluding the top official, Murad Bayar, as well as a flurry of new procurement rules. But they said the government’s doctrinal approach in favor of national/indigenous programs would progress on the same line regardless of a change at the Cabinet level.
The mildly Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month appointed Ismet Yilmaz as new defense minister after his party’s third consecutive election victory June 12. Yilmaz replaced Vecdi Gonul, defense minister since 2002.
“The new minister may introduce some new procurement rules and order a personnel reshuffle, but the top bureaucracy will remain intact, and so will the government policy to go local as much as possible in procurement programs,” a senior government official familiar with defense procurement said.
Yilmaz, born in 1961, graduated from the Maritime Academy in 1982 and from Istanbul University’s Law Faculty in 1987. He holds master’sdegrees in maritime and law from Swedish and Turkish universities, and a doctorate in private law from Marmara University in Istanbul.
Yilmaz worked for public and private sectors for 20 years as engineer and lawyer. In 2002, he became the undersecretary for the government’s Maritime Undersectariat. In government service, he also worked as deputy board director for the national telecom company, and as caretaker transport minister before the 2007 parliamentary elections. In November 2007, Yilmaz was appointed as undersecretary for the culture ministry.
Pakistan told the United States to leave a remote desert air base reportedly used as a hub for covert CIA drone attacks, Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar was quoted by state media as saying on Wednesday.
His remarks are the latest indication of Pakistan attempting to limit US military role in the country since a clandestine American military raid killed Osama bin Laden on May 2. Islamabad also detained a CIA contractor wanted for murder in January.
“We have told them (US officials) to leave the air base,” national news agency APP quoted Mukhtar as telling a group of journalists in his office.
Images said to be of US Predator drones at Shamsi base have been published by Google Earth in the past. The air strip is 900 kilometres (560 miles) southwest of the capital Islamabad in Baluchistan province.
CNN reported in April that US military personnel had left the base, said to be a key site for American drone attacks, in the fallout over public killings by a CIA contractor in Lahore and his subsequent detention.
Reports said operations at the base, which Washington has not publicly acknowledged, were conducted with tacit Pakistani military consent.
“No U.S. flights are taking place from Shamsi any longer. If there have to be flights from the base, it will only be Pakistani flights,” Mukhtar told a UK newspaper.
Neither does the United States officially confirm Predator drone attacks, but its military and the CIA operating in occupied Afghanistan are the only forces in the region that deploy the armed, unmanned aircraft.
As Syria’s Assad regime continues to struggle in containing the widespread uprisings and demonstrations for a more democratic, progressive political system throughout the country, neighboring Turkey is facing an increasingly difficult humanitarian crisis just north of the long border.
Last Thursday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu spoke with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem, about the changing security environment in Syria and implications for Turkey. Movement of Syrian troops north near the Turkish border in an attempt to control the outflow of Syrian refugees into Turkey was among the critical subjects the two ministers discussed. It is no secret now that the situation at the border and increasing numbers of Syrian refugees in Turkey, now approaching some 20,000, is creating tensions between the two countries.
Thus far, Turkey’s AKP government has followed a bi-polar political strategy in handling the Syrian crisis. It publicly criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while quietly advising the same regime on how to contain and eliminate the opposition using tangible, progressive reforms. On the other hand, Turkey also hosted open platforms for Syrian opposition leaders on Turkish soil, in order to provide guidance and discuss their strategies in toppling the Assad regime and achieving a higher political presence in Syria.
Currently, Turkey seems to have three options in peacefully diffusing the threatening situation beyond its southern border and stopping the inflow of Syrian refugees.
(1) The first option Turkey is suggesting to Syria involves removal of Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher al-Assad, who leads the Syrian Republican Guard and is primarily responsible for killing and mistreatment of a great number of Syrian opposition members. Turkish authorities have wisely avoided condemning Bashar al-Assad and kept their focus on Maher instead. According to a June 18th report by Al Arabiya, an emissary of Turkish Prime Minister Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Syria to ask Bashar to fire his brother. This suggestion requires Maher to be exiled to Turkey or another suitable country where he would be monitored and kept away from militancy and interfering with Syrian internal politics. Turkey points out that such a move would portray Bashar as a truly progressive, reformist leader who is willing to exile his brother for the greater good of Syria.
Some western analysts generally unfamiliar with the region point out that this option undermines the role of Maher in keeping different factions of the Syrian Armed Forces together and suggest that exiling Maher may push Syria into an explosive infighting and eventually even partitioning. I, however, disagree with this observation as I believe it is the Assad family as a whole and its surrogates within the Syrian state that provide the said unifying function. Power of the al-Assad clan is currently personified in Bashar al-Assad, and any decision he makes, even as radical as firing his brother, will be readily digestible by the forces in Syria that determine the political and economic dynamics in that country. So long as the Alawites’ traditional hold of economic power in Syria’s western coastal cities is not damaged, their support of Bashar and the al-Assad family in general will remain strong.
That said, we should not forget that the former Syrian President, Bashar’s father Hazef al-Assad did successfully exile his younger brother Rifaat al-Assad, also a military man, after a coup attempt, a move that demonstrated the reach of his power and strengthened his regime for years to come. I believe the same may as well be the case for his sons.
(2) The second option Turkey is working on for Syria is similar to the Lebanese political model, where a confessional system based on a 1932 census is in effect that just about equally divides power among Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim factions. Proposal for Syria would similarly allocate the power, and hence resources, somewhat equally among the country’s majority Sunni Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds, and minority Alawites, Christians and Druze. This new system would create strong checks and balances that would prevent either side from dominating the economy or monopolizing the politics of Syria.
Turkey is ready to provide all the assistance needed for accomplishing this. If completed successfully, it would score an important point for Turkey in the country’s ambitious mission to become a prestigious leader and a secular democracy model for the Islamic world.
(3) The third option proposes the legalization of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB). At the moment, membership in the group is not only outlawed in Syria, but also punishable by death. Turkey says legalization of the Syrian MB and turning the group into a legitimate political party would limit its militancy and draw the movement closer to a more peaceful, political struggle. This would, in effect, dramatically defuse the Syrian crisis.
Al-Assad is however seems to be currently against the idea as it bears the potential for eventually growing in power via unification of the majority Sunni base turning into electoral votes and undermining the established power of Al-Assad’s Baath party and the economic monopoly of Syria’s Alawites.
It will be interesting to see the events unfold and watch Turkey make its moves before the crisis grows into an even bigger refugee crisis, and with the movements of even more Syrian military units into the border region, starts posing a national security danger for Turkey.