MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - A Turkish military delegation has come to Russia to discuss the possible acquisition of Mi-28 attack helicopters. This is not the first time the two countries have discussed cooperation.
In the 1970s and the early 1980s, Turkey bought 32 used AH-1P/S Cobra attack helicopters in the United States and later upgraded them to the AH-1F specifications. The Turkish army still has 23 AH-1P/S Cobras. However, Turkish military authorities started thinking about replacing them in the mid-1990s.
During the subsequent tender they considered several models of combat helicopter, including the Ka-50-2 Erdogan, a version of the Russian Ka-50 Black Shark developed by Russia and Israel for Turkey. Unlike the Ka-50 where the pilots sit side-by-side, the seats in the Erdogan are placed in tandem as in the U.S. Cobra chopper.
However, Turkey did not choose the Kamov helicopter for political reasons, such as growing U.S. influence in Turkey and, conversely, the lack of Russian influence. Also, Russia could not then guarantee the timely production of the required number of new helicopters or post-sale service. Lastly, the Ka-50 was not mass-produced even for the Russian army at that time.
An updated Cobra with new weapons and equipment was the most probable winner in the Turkish tender, but the contract was eventually awarded to a European producer, the Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland, which proudly proclaims to be "a total rotorcraft capability provider."
AgustaWestland, announced as the winning bidder in March 2007, pledged to assemble 50 T129 prototypes in Turkey. However, the first T129 will be rolled out only in 2015, whereas Turkey needs choppers now to fight Kurdish militants.
The purchase of seven used AH-1W SuperCobras in 2008 has not solved the problem either. Turkey needs modern attack helicopters to fill the gap until 2015 and for several more years while its pilots learn to fly the T129 choppers.
As a result, Turkey has decided to purchase Russian machines. It has opted for the Mi-28N Night Hunter, which, unlike the Ka-50, has been mass-produced since the 1990s and is supplied to the Russian Armed Forces.
Turkey may buy between 12 and 32 helicopters within two or three years. It is unclear if it wants the choppers with or without top-mounted radar, which is an extremely expensive option.
The Turkish military had once considered buying the Mi-24 Crocodile, which has several common structural elements with the Mi-28. The Mi-17 multirole helicopter is currently used in Turkey for military, police and civilian purposes.
Significantly, the Mil helicopters have for years been used in similar terrain in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East. Moreover, Russia's influence and relations with Turkey have grown dramatically and many contradictions in bilateral ties have been smoothed over since the 1990s.
Therefore, Turkey could buy the Mi-28, whose track record over the past 20 years and the initial results of its combat use show that this highly versatile helicopter could remain on combat duty even after T129 assembly start-up in Turkey.
And the final touch: the protection and combat payload specifications of the T129 are below those of the Mi-28.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.