Just two weeks after the Turkish Government announced the start of the Turkish Utility Helicopter Program (TUHP) to build a fleet of multi-role T70 utility helicopters based on the S-70i Black Hawk, Lockheed Martin-owned Sikorsky has accepted the program’s prototype aircraft produced by its Polish subsidiary, PZL Mielec.
Sikorsky accepted the TUHP prototype aircraft from PZL Mielec during a ceremony on 22 June. The chopper is the 37th S-70i helicopter built in Poland. Among the modifications that PZL Mielec added to the aircraft are a rescue hoist, internal auxiliary fuel tank, cargo hook, Integrated Vehicle Health Management System, a blade de-icing system, and a rotor brake.
Early next year, Sikorsky will fly the prototype to Ankara where it will become the engineering development test bed for a new avionics suite being co-developed by Sikorsky and Turkish defense electronics company Aselsan. The two companies will use the helicopter to integrate, flight-test, and qualify the avionics suite, which is designed to the preferences of the T70 user community.
Contractual agreements approved by the U.S. and Turkish governments license TAI to build and deliver a total of 300 T70 helicopters (109 baseline + 191 options) to six Turkish agencies: the Land Forces, Air Force, Gendarme, Special Forces, National Police, and the Directorate General of Forestry. The first Turkish-built T70 aircraft will be certified and qualified for delivery to the Turkish Government in 2021.
Over the next two years, PZL will manufacture the first five cabin structures that TAI will assemble onto the first five T70 aircraft. PZL personnel also will provide technical and manufacturing assistance and training to TAI both in Turkey and Poland. The PZL facility is the largest manufacturing facility outside the United States owned by Lockheed Martin.
Turkey and United States have confirmed earlier agreements to let Turkish Aerospace Industry (TAI) build 109 TAI/Sikorsky T70 Black Hawk helicopters, the Turkish version of the S70i.
Both the US helicopter manufacturer and TAI have now activated the contractual agreements. The machines of the so-called Turkish Utility Helicopter Program (TUHP) will be produced over the next decade in Turkey. The Turks will even manufacture a 109 additional baseline S70i choppers to Sikorsky over the next 30 years, aimed for export markets in Southwest Asia, Central Asia and Africa.
Black Hawks to the forces
Of the 109 new Black Hawks to be rolling out of the factory in Turkish Ankara the coming decade the Gendarmerie (Jandarma Genel Komutanlığı, JGK) will get the most, with 30 helicopters. Each 20 T-70s will go to the Turkish Land Forces (Türk Kara Kuvvetleri, TKK), the General Directorate of Security (Emniyet Genel Müdürlüğü, EGM) to be flown by the National Police, and the Ministry of Forest and Water Management (Orman ve Su İşleri Bakanlığı, OSİB). The latter will be equipped for fire-fighting duties. The Special Forces Command (Özel Kuvvetler Komutanlığı, ÖKK) will get eleven, the Turkish Air Force (Türk Hava Kuvvetleri, THK) six. Finally, a pair of T-70s will go the Gölbaşi command unit of the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı, MİT).
Co-develop the T70
Production at the new TAI assembly line will commence in 2018 with five kit aircraft shipped from the US. From assembly TAI will move forward to become a full production plant, including the local manufacturing of entire airframe structures and rotor blades. Alp Aviation, a Sikorsky joint venture, will precision-machine the dynamic components and flight controls and assemble landing gear and transmissions. Aselsan and Sikorsky will co-develop an enhanced digital cockpit known as the Integrated Modular Avionics System (IMAS); and Turkish Engine Industries (TEI) will build engines under license from General Electric (GE).
To facilitate the development and integration of the IMAS, Sikorsky will transfer to Aselsan a new S-70i helicopter to be utilized as the Prototype Turkish Utility Helicopter for the qualification of the new avionics system in 2019.
The first T70s are planned to be operational in 2021, with the final of 109 machines scheduled for delivery by 2026. The total program is worth 3.5 billion US dollars.
The government and defence services of Turkey already fly many older S-70 derivatives, with 106 with the Land Forces and 28 with the Gendarmerie. The Turkish Naval Forces (Türk Deniz Kuvvetleri, TDK) ordering 17 new S-70B Seahawks back in 2006 to complement the seven it already had.
A decade or so ago, the Turkish Air Force faced a challenge. Its pilots were trained using aircraft over 30 years old with analogue instruments prior to converting to modern fourth-generation platforms like the F-16. With the arrival of the even more advanced fifth-generation F-35A Lightning II in mind, something had to change. That change materialized as the T-38M Talon, the result of an upgrade program by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). Following delivery of the last of 68 revitalized T-38s last year, Turkish student pilots now get to know the new Talon.
The Turkish Air Force has been flying the modernized T-38M since delivery of the first aircraft in June 2012. The project was initiated in 2007 with a contract for the upgrade of 55 aircraft. An option on a further 13 aircraft was later exercised. The program included an major overhaul plus – more importantly – a new mission computer, multi-function cockpit displays, a head-up display in the front and hands on throttle and stick controls. The first five aircraft, including two prototypes and three production examples, were delivered by TAI after which the Turkish Air Force maintenance center at Eskisehir continued with the remaining airframes.
Originally donated by the dozens by the United States Air Force, the T-38 has been training Turkish pilots since the 1970s and in its new guise will continue to do so until well beyond 2020. Epicentre of it all is Çigli airbase, just north of the country’s third biggest city Izmir. Here, aircraft continuously taxi out, take off, fly overhead and make touch and goes before landing. With many dozens of sorties each day, this is without a doubt Turkey’s busiest airbase.
Base commander major general Kubilay Selçuk, a pilot with many hundreds of flight hours in the F-100 Super Sabre, F-104 Starfighter and F-16 Fighting Falcon: “Many things have changed in the past few years. We resurfaced the runways and taxiways, built new ramps with sun sheds and other facilities such as a simulator center. Our modernized T-38Ms, new KT-1Ts turboprop trainers and simulators enable us to train fighter pilots well into the future. Future fighter pilots will not be assets of a command center. They will be a vital part of that command center, collecting more and more information themselves and acting accordingly. We prepare them for that.”
Future pilots all spend a total of three months flying the SF260D, six months flying the KT-1T and another six months flying the T-38M or either the AS532 helicopter or CN235 transport aircraft depending on their next assigment. Advanced jet training in the T-38 includes instrument flying, formations of up to four aircraft, low level navigation and night flying. Every flight is planned on the computer and mission data are then downloaded into the T-38M’s mission computer. After the flight, mission data is uploaded back to the computer enabling very detailed debriefs.”
On their thirteenth T-38M sortie, students go solo. Unlike their counterparts in the US, Turkish students don’t fly supersonic in the Talon. This is reserved for experienced instructors performing check rides.
A unique training method links each student with his or her instructor pilot, says base commander Selçuk. Students all have different types of intelligence and methods in which they best absorb information. This could be visual intelligence, listening intelligence or emotional intelligence, for example. A survey before entering flight training links their specific learning style to an instructor with a similar teaching style. These adjustments and the commissioning of the new simulator center enables the students to acquire more information in a shorter time frame. For example, T-38 students now fly 69 real sorties instead of 81 in the past.
The demand for new fighter pilots is large and this is reflected in the number of instructors being assigned. Instructor pilots are accepted as first assignment instructor pilots (FAIP) and they are taken from operational units. Between 2000 and 2014, close to 500 instructor pilots were trained at Çigli airbase. A peak was reached in 2011 when 52 new instructors arrived, but currently around 30 new instructor pilots arrive each year.
A relatively new role to Çigli airbase and the T-38 is the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF). The role was taken over from 133 Filo (squadron) flying the F-5 at Konya airbase following the F-5’s retirement in 2013. The IFF phase consists of a single air intercept sortie, six basic fighter manoeuvre sorties and eight air-to-ground sorties over a nearby reserve airbase. Since the T-38 cannot carry any armament, all weapon deliveries are simulated. The aim of this phase is for students to learn how to employ their aircraft as a weapons systems, rather than ‘simply’ flying it. Completing this phase smoothens their conversion to the F-16.
In the US, the T-38 is the subject of the T-X program that looks for a replacement in the next decade or so. The Turkish Air Force expects to be able to fly the T-38M until around two years after the United States Air Force stops operating the Talon, meaning the aircraft could stay in service until at least 2030. The Turkish Air Foroce recently started first preparations for the selection of a new jet trainer aircraft. It should probably enter service in the second half of the next decade. All in all, plenty of Turkish Talon training time left.
Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) F-15 fighter jets finally arrived at Incirlik airbase, Turkey, on Friday 26 February after weeks of reports and rumours. The jets were accompanied by an Airbys A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and C-130 Hercules aircraft.
The F-15s are two seat F-15S variants, capable of precision strikes in Syria. Saudi Arabia earlier this month stated it contemplated sending strike aircraft to Turkey for operations over Syria, but it remained unclear wether or when aircraft would actually be deployed.
Riyadh is opposed to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, a thought shared by Ankara. The sending of warplanes could escalate the military situation in but especially in the skies over Syria. Russian and Iranian jets have been operating over the country in support of Assas, while Western allied aircraft rage war against Islamic States forces in Syria.
UPDATED 16 February | The Royal Saudi Air Force is about to send combat jets to Incirlik Airbase in Turkey, to start bombing runs against the so-called Islamic State forces (ISIS / ISIL / Daesh) in Syria.
Update | News surrounding the deployment is vague at best. Most recent info is that the Saudi jets will deploy to Turkey ‘by the end of February’, sources in Riyadh say.
Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Cavusoglu confirmed the Kingdom’s plans Saturday 13 February 2015. Saudi quarter makers already inspected Incirlik and see it fit for operations, Cavusoglu said to Turkish journalists.
With the substantial Russian combat air expeditionary wing operating inside Syria, the RSAF probably will not only deploy air-to-ground attack dedicated F-15S/SA Strike Eagles, Eurofighter Typhoons and Panavia Tornado IDSs – or a mixture of those – but very likely add a dedicated counter-air/air escort element to the ops. That task could either be done by the Typhoons or Saudi F-15C and D Eagle air-supiority fighters.
According to sources in Ankara and in Riyadh the Saudis are even considering a land operation, with troops being flown into Incirlik to cross into Syria from Turkish territory. If that plan will be executed, it may mean involvement of Saudi AH-64 Apache attack helicopters operating from Incirlik as well, but so far that plan is just a plan.
The Saudis are calling an end to the leadership of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, who in turn is more or less supported by Moscow – at least for the time being.