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.
The meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday constitutes a significant event in the international campaign focused on Syria lately.
It is not a coincidence that as Turkey launches this latest diplomatic attempt, many countries and organizations have also expressed tough criticism of the Assad regime.
The fact that the bloody incidents in Syria have reached the dimensions of a massacre has prompted even those countries which have been silent or cautious up until now to voice their concerns loudly.
Saudi Arabian King Abdullah condemned the incidents in Syria for the first time and called on Assad to end the violence. Like Saudi Arabia, two other Gulf countries, Bahrain and Kuwait, withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus.
Meanwhile, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council issued statements condemning the Assad administration. The chief imam of the al-Azhar Mosque in Egypt came out against Damascus.
It is a significant development that the Arab world for the first time is raising its voice in a chorus against the Assad regime even though some of these countries are lead by authoritarian kings or leaders. The public uprising in Bahrain was crushed by brute force. And besides, with contributions of troops from Saudi Arabia… This is one of the contradictions of the Arab world.
However, this is also a reality that the vice surrounding Syria is tightening and that the Assad regime is gradually becoming isolated.
Nobody says ‘resign’
Including Turkey, an interesting aspect of the attitude of all the countries that are increasing their pressure against Syria is that Assad is still the addressee, and hopes of change are still being pinned on him.
No one from either the West or the East has called on Assad to resign as in the case of Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Gadhafi. This call had an immediate effect in Egypt. In Libya, the process has not been finalized yet.
In fact, incidents in Syria for example are more tragic than Egypt. But the international community still maintains the wish and hope that the transformation in this country can be made without a change of regime.
The primary reason for this is that Syria’s political structure and the strength of its regime is different than other Arab countries. To tell the truth, Assad is not a person who would obey the word “resign.” He relies on his own army, the Baath party, his intelligence organization and support from Iran.
Because of this and other similar reasons, nobody for now has openly asked Assad to resign. Instead of this, they advise him to withdraw his army from cities and end the firing on the public. The demand from Arab countries (for example King Abdullah) is only this. Western countries – and, of course, Turkey – in addition to this call for Assad to make democratic reforms fast, demand that he come to terms with the opposition and organize free elections.
With or without Assad
Will this change and transformation occur with or without Assad?
At this phase – since it is a weak probability that the regime will be toppled – the option of forcing Assad to change his politics is preferred more.
How will this happen? Again at this phase, the method to be applied should be to keep Damascus under political pressure and to force the administration to come to terms with the opposition.
Signs coming from the region and the West also point to the formation of a “coalition of pressure” against Syria.
Will this be enough to bring Assad to reason? If it is, then it is good for everybody. Otherwise, other options could be considered, such as boycotts or economic sanctions – nobody, presumably, is considering the military option. We hope that it will not come to that point.
*Sami Kohen is a columnist for daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.
An American spy novelist is disputing the details of the raid that took down the world’s “Most Wanted” terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
RJ Hillhouse, who runs the blog www.thespywhobilledme.com, writes that sources in the intelligence community told her that bin Laden was killed because a Pakistani intelligence (ISI) official informed the U.S. authorities about the al Qaeda leader’s whereabouts.
This would contradict widely published reports that a four-year CIA surveillance of Laden’s courier led to the intel that made the famous Navy SEAL Team Six raid possible.
“Forget the cover story of waterboarding-leads-to-courier-leads-to bin Laden,” writes Hillhouse in her blog.
The ISI informant allegedly passed on information leading to Laden in exchange of a roughly $25 million reward offered by the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program, states Hillhouse’s blog. He also wished to secure the U.S. citizenship for his family.
The State Department said it would not comment on Hillhouse’s blog, the Daily Mail reported.
The blog, which describes Hillhouse asan expert on national security outsourcing, posted other conflicting details about Operation Neptune’s Spear.
The informant told the U.S. officials that the Saudi’s were paying off Pakistan and the ISI to shelter Laden in the Abottabad compound, writes Hillhouse. Hillhouse claims that his information led to the intelligence gathering that brought the CIA to Abottobad, Pakistan, where bin Laden had been living.
Published reports say that Pakistani authorities were unaware of the mission.
However, Hillhouse claims that the Pakistani military as well as the ISI knew about the operation and even cooperated with the U.S., after the CIA offered to pay them double what the Saudi’s were paying to keep bin Laden.
“The cooperation was why there were no troops in Abottabad,” posted Hillhouse on her blog. “They were all pulled out. It had always seemed very farfetched to me that a helicopter could crash and later destroyed in an area with such high military concentration without the Pakistanis noticing.”
Hillhouse has taught at the University of Michigan and was a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii. During her student days, she claims to have engaged in the black market between East and West, running Cuban rum, smuggling jewels from the Soviet Union and laundering East Bloc currencies. Her blog states that foreign governments had tried to recruit her as a spy but failed.
TheSpyWhoBilledMe was featured in The New YorkTimes Week in Review after the head of the private military corporation Blackwater USA granted her an exclusive interview.
Turkey will spend close to $5 billion for defense procurement this year, the highest in the country’s history, a senior procurement official said on the weekend.
“Some major spending items have just started or are starting now, including those for the purchase of [around 100] Joint Strike Fighter jet aircraft [JFSs], submarines and utility helicopters,” said the official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity. “As a result, the arms spending is jumping, approaching $5 billion this year. Thank God, the general economic situation of the country is fine.”
In recent years Turkey has spent just over $4 billion a year on defense procurement.
Turkey’s ambitious military modernization program calls for the acquisition of the most sophisticated weaponry for the Land Forces, the Navy and the Air Force. In addition, the procurement office has made local acquisition a priority in meeting the military’s equipment demands.
Two large-scale programs are expected to begin this year; the first is Turkey’s national long-range air- and missile-defense project for which U.S., European, Russian and Chinese companies are vying to be selected as the main contractor. Turkey’s selection for the multi-billion-dollar contract is expected late this year or early next year.
Second, Turkey is preparing to soon select a Landing Platform Dock, which resembles a helicopter carrier and can carry a battalion-sized force of more than 1,000 troops overseas. Three Turkish shipyards and their foreign partners are eyeing the contract, which will be worth between $500 million and $1 billion. Turkey’s decision is expected next summer.
“There’s enough reason to think that the defense procurement budget will continue to increase gradually over the next few years to reach another saturation point,” the procurement official said.
Part of the rise in Turkey’s arms procurement budget is expected to be compensated by a parallel increase in the local defense industry’s export capabilities. The Turkish defense industry this year is expecting to garner between $1 billion and $1.5 billion from exports of defense-related equipment.
The largest sector in the Turkish defense industry’s exports business is armored vehicle makers. Among these companies, FNSS secured a $600 million contract with Malaysia this year to sell its 8X8 Pars vehicles, the largest export deal in Turkey’s history.
Also, under a new measure adopted by Turkey’s defense procurement agency, Ankara is slated to retain at least 70 percent of the money it spends for defense purchases from other countries. For past contracts, this figure was 50 percent.
In a directive released late April, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries said foreign defense companies doing business with Turkey should agree that 70 percent of the contract’s value be returned through local industry content and offsets.
In other words, if a foreign company signs a defense contract worth $100 million with Turkey, it will agree to return $70 million of this money through its payments to its Turkish partners for their local work on the project or through offsets.
In defense industry contracts, an offset is an industrial compensation. It is a commitment provided by the selling country to the purchasing country to buy defense-related products manufactured by the buying country in return for the main sale.
“Financially speaking, I think we’re doing a good job by keeping the larger part of the contract money in the country, and in the meantime, obtaining knowhow,” said the procurement official.
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.
Turkish exports of armored vehicles are expanding, including purchases by the United States for the first time.
A senior Turkish military procurement official involved with supporting Turkish arms exports, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Hurriyet that Turkish armored vehicle manufacturers are expanding beyond their traditional Middle Eastern markets.
“We are happy to see these companies now chasing deals in parts of the Far East they have not yet sold their products to, and there are initial signs of penetration into difficult markets like the U.S.,” he said “All of that is very encouraging.”
Turkey’s Defense Industry Manufacturers Association Secretary-General Kaya Yazgan told Hurriyet, “The making of armored vehicles is one of the strongest sectors in our defense industry.”
Istanbul’s Otokar, which is owned by Turkey’s top business conglomerate Koc Holding, produces seven armored vehicle variants and its 2010 sales to civilian and military clients topped $313 million.
In May Otokar displayed Turkey’s first indigenously built tank, the Altay, at the IDEF’11 international defense industry fair in Istanbul.
Head of Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defense Industry Murad Bayar said Altay tanks would be entirely built in Turkey, with Turkish defense industry company Aselsan. It will build the Altay’s electronic systems, providing Identification Friend-or-Foe systems.
Otokar officials say that Altay tanks will be ready for sale by 2016.
Otokar exports products to the armed forces of nearly 20 countries.
Last December Otokar said that it had received its first order from a foreign military for its ARMA new armored combat vehicle, which comes as either a 6×6 or 8×8 wheeled armored vehicle.
The company added that the ARMA, a modular multi-wheel configuration wheeled armored vehicle, would be exported before making its debut in the Turkish military. The amphibian vehicle weighs 20 tons fully loaded for combat and has a crew consisting of a driver, a commander and eight personnel. ARMA is transportable by various means including C130 aircraft.
Otokar also builds the Cobra, a 4×4 vehicle, which comes in 10 models designed for different missions. Otokar has sold Cobras to more than 10 other countries and the vehicle has been utilized in a variety of both NATO and U.N. missions.
“There is increasing demand for the Cobra from an increasing number of countries,” Otokar said in a news release.
In 2009 Turkey’s total arms exports amounted to $832 million. Other leading Turkish arms manufacturing companies include Hiscar Automotive Industries, Ankara’s FNSS, which is 51 percent owned by Turkish business group Nurol and Izmir’s BMC, which is owned by the Cukurova Holding industrial conglomerate.
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.
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards are to launch military exercises on June 26 with the firing of different range ballistic missiles, the state news agency IRNA reported.
The exercises, codenamed Great Prophet-6, are to start on June 26, said a Guards commander, Gen. Ami Ali Hadjizadeh, quoted by IRNA, without specifying how long the maneuvers will last.
“Short-, medium- and long-range missiles will be fired, especially the Khalij-Fars, Sejil, Fateh, Ghiam, and Shahab-1 and -2 missiles,” he said.
The general, whose force carries out wargames each year in the Gulf region, said the latest exercises were “a message of peace and friendship to the countries of the area.”
In late May, Iran said it had equipped the Revolutionary Guards with a new surface-to-surface missile, the Qiam-1, which was built locally and test-fired last August.
Iran says it has a wide range of missiles, some capable of striking targets inside arch-foe Israel as well as U.S. bases in the Middle East.
The Islamic republic regularly boasts about developing missiles having substantial range and capabilities, but Western military experts cast doubt on its claims.
Iran’s missile program is under the control of the Guards.
Its space and missile programs have been a concern in the West, which fears Tehran is developing a ballistic capability to launch potential nuclear weapons which it suspects Iran aims to develop under the guise of its civilian atomic program.
Iran has steadfastly denied these Western charges, saying its nuclear and space programs have no military objectives.
Turkey could “declare a mobilization” in the international arena for the recognition of a new Palestinian state, Turkey’s prime minister has said, voicing strong backing for Palestinian aspirations to an independent state.
“Turkey is determined to support Palestine [in its bid] to become a member of the United Nations,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a press conference after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday.
In his four-day visit to Ankara to seek support to solve a dispute with Hamas on establishing a unity government, Abbas received strong promises of help on the matter.
While backing Palestinian ambitions to found their own state, Ankara also urged both Abbas and Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal to end their disagreements on who would be the new prime minister of the unity government. Meshaal had talks with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in Istanbul on Tuesday.
“Establishing an independent and viable state, whose capital will be east Jerusalem, is the basic condition to solve this problem,” Erdoğan said referring to the Middle East peace process with Israel.
The prime minister said Turkey would host meetings for ambassadors of Palestine from various countries in Istanbul on 23-24 July.
“We are continuing on the path of reconciliation and there will be no turning back,” Abbas said in the press conference.
“We will make all efforts possible until the unity of our nation is achieved and a transitional government is established,” he said.
Abbas said countries that have not yet recognized the independent Palestine state should recognize it in order to support peace and stability.
Al-Fatah and Hamas have argued over who will be the next prime minister of the unity government. A meeting of al-Fatah and Hamas leaders in Cairo on Tuesday was postponed due to Hamas opposition to the reappointment of Western-backed economist Salam Fayyad.
Turkey has urged Abbas and Meshaal groups to take advantage of the high moral ground they achieved with their agreement to form a unity government, stressing Palestinian groups should be united to properly use the leverage they achieved.
Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, meanwhile, arrived in Ankara on Friday to hold talks with Turkish officials.