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30 Nov, 2018 13:25

S-400 blowback? Turkey seeks replacement for US-withheld helicopter engines in $1.5bn export deal

S-400 blowback? Turkey seeks replacement for US-withheld helicopter engines in $1.5bn export deal

Ankara and Islamabad have agreed to seek replacement engines for 30 Turkish-made attack helicopters after the US blocked supplies. Some Turkish officials say Washington is retaliating for the purchase of Russian-made missiles.

In July, Turkey and Pakistan signed their biggest-ever arms deal, ending four years of negotiations. The Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is to produce 30 T129 ATAK multipurpose helicopters for the Pakistani military for $1.5 billion. The model is a derivative from the Italian Agusta A129 Mangusta, which integrates Turkish avionics and weapons with AgustaWestland’s airframe and has some upgrades.

The deal however hit a stumbling block after the Turkish company failed to obtain an export license from the US Department of Defense. The license is required for the US-made parts of the engines that are meant to power the aircraft. The LHTEC T800-4A turboshaft engines are produced by a joint venture of the US-based manufacturer Honeywell and Britain’s Rolls-Royce.

“This is not a technological or financial matter but is purely political at the moment,” a senior Turkish procurement official told Defense News in August, after the problem arose.

With the license problems seemingly nowhere near a resolution, Pakistan and Turkey agreed to seek a replacement variant for the engines, Turkey’s Hurriyet reported on Thursday. Producers in France and Poland are being considered as potential suppliers, provided that new tests are made to confirm performance in high-altitude and bad weather conditions. The US-British engines were tested on the T129 to conform to Pakistani demands in 2016. TAI hopes it will be able to complete the contract in five years, the newspaper reported.

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The US threw a monkey wrench into the lucrative arms deal to punish Ankara for purchasing Russian S-400 long-range air defense systems in defiance of Washington’s warnings, a senior Turkish defense official told Russia’s TASS news agency. The remarks were made during the IDEAS 2018 arms expo in Pakistan’s Karachi this week. The official said a Chinese product may be considered as a replacement too.

Ankara’s purchase of the Russian weapon system is one of many issues marring Turkey’s relations with the US. The two countries have clashed over the past several years regarding Washington’s support of Kurdish militias in Syria and Iraq and US failure to extradite a Turkish cleric accused by Ankara of orchestrating an armed coup, to name a few.

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