U.S.-Turkey Copter Deal Flies despite Human Rights

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TURKISH PRIME MINISTER Bulent Ecevit announced July 21 that Turkey had chosen the AH-1Z KingCobra as the winner of its competition for the purchase of as many as 145 attack helicopters in a deal potentially worth more than $4 billion. The KingCobra will be the most advanced version of the Cobra attack helicopter series ever produced. The Clinton administration welcomed the potential sale despite opposition from many members of Congress who contend that Turkey has not met important "benchmarks" on human rights to allow the sale to proceed.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright first authorized U.S. companies to compete for the sale in December 1997. Turkey selected the AH-1Z, offered by Bell Helicopter Textron of Fort Worth, Texas, over two other finalists-the Italian-manufactured A-129 International and a joint Israeli-Russian helicopter, the KA-50-2. However, Ecevit reserved the option to begin negotiations with the Israeli-Russian team if terms on price, technology transfers, re-export conditions, and offsets could not be reached with Bell Helicopter. The initial contract will be for 50 of the "gunships," valued at approximately $1.5 billion, with options to purchase up to 95 more.

The AH-1Z, according to Bell Helicopter, will incorporate the latest technology making it the "preeminent armed reconnaissance helicopter," and will provide "significant improvements over current armed helicopters in multi-mission capability and selective firepower." Advanced targeting sensors will enable the helicopter to track and acquire targets at "extreme ranges" during day or night. A Bell Helicopter spokesman said the newest Cobra will be the "best at what it is designed to do."

The U.S. Marine Corps is scheduled to procure 180 AH-1Zs, though their models will be remanufactured versions of existing AH-1Ws already in the field. Turkey's KingCobras will be newly manufactured with most of the actual work expected to take place in Turkey. Presumably this will require substantial technology transfers. Initial deliveries of both models are to begin in 2004.

A U.S. Marine Corps spokesman said the Marines "support the international sale of the AH-1Z." The Pentagon typically supports exports of U.S. weaponry maintaining that exports increase interoperability with friends and allies and reduce the per-unit cost of weaponry and spare parts procured by U.S. armed forces. The full benefits of exporting the AH-1Z cannot be calculated at this time, the Marine spokesman said, because it is not yet clear whether the Turkish model will use the same equipment as the U.S. model. Bell Helicopter is marketing the AH-1Z to other countries, including Australia and Poland.

In April, prior to the Turkish selection, 22 senators and 29 congressmen sent letters asking the administration to deny export licenses for attack helicopters to Turkey. Citing Turkey's past use of U.S. weapons against its minority Kurd population, Turkey's occupation of northern Cyprus, and Turkey's threats against its neighbors, the April 18 congressmen's letter, signed by the cochairs of the Congressional Hellenic and Armenian caucuses, warned that the helicopters could provoke a "costly arms race. …