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Turkey mulls fresh military cargo plane buy

27 January 2010 [14:33] - TODAY.AZ
Turkey will have to look for other options to meet its Air Force's cargo aircraft requirements if the pan-European Airbus A400M military transport plane program collapses at the end of this month, officials and analysts said.

As a member of the Airbus A400M consortium, Turkey has been planning to buy 10 planes. But because of delays of more than two years and huge cost increases, the future of the program is in jeopardy.

Procurement officials from seven European countries, including Turkey, with orders to buy the A400 tried and failed last week to resolve differences over how to share billions of euros in cost overruns. They are expected to meet again this week in an effort to reach reconciliation before a Jan. 31 deadline.

If the A400 program is canceled altogether, Turkey will have to buy other cargo aircraft, officials said.

Some military officials already say that Ankara should buy Lockheed Martin's C-130J, the most modern in the C130 family of cargo planes, while some procurement officials say the Italian Alenia's C-27J also is an option.

Members of the A400 consortium include Germany, France, Spain, Britain, Turkey, Belgium and Luxembourg.

The Airbus A400M is a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft. It was designed by Airbus Military to replace or supplement aircraft used for the role of tactical airlifter. In recent years it has become far more expensive to make than initially anticipated.

The A400 took off on its maiden flight in Spain in December. Originally, production of a total of 180 planes had been planned.

In their Berlin meeting last week, officials from the seven member countries met with authorities from EADS, the parent company of Airbus, maker of the A400, but the uncertainty over what to do to meet additional expenses remained in place.

Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül said in January that Ankara wanted the program to remain in place, but it was not ready to agree to greatly increased costs. "We want this plane, but we cannot pay more than what Parliament has allocated for the project," he said.

If the program remains in place but the prices increase to the tune of 25 percent, an option for Turkey is to buy seven planes instead of the originally planned 10. But Turkey, by itself, cannot control the program's fate.

If a solution is found soon and the A400 program remains in place, the Turkish Aerospace Industries, or TAI, would produce parts of the plane altogether worth some $750 million throughout the project's life span.

In a related development, Turkey's own program to upgrade its older C-130B and C-130E cargo planes also is faltering, with the avionic modernization of the 13 aircraft facing delays of more than two years.

"If the A400's collapse becomes clear soon, Turkey will have to open talks with the Americans and some Europeans for the purchase of an alternative model," said one defense analyst, on condition of anonymity.

Presently, the Turkish Air Force also has 19 older European-made C-160s, which originally had been planned to be eventually replaced by the A400.

In addition, the Turkish military is operating about 50 CN-235 light transport aircrafts manufactured jointly with Spain.

/Hurriyet Daily News/

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