Congressional leaders have blocked major U.S. arms sales to Turkey for almost two years in response to Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems, which the United States says threatens the confidentiality of F-35 stealth technology. Turkey was subsequently ejected from the F-35 programme.
The congressional hold on arms sales, first reported last week by Defense News, has also impacted other key priorities of the Turkish military sector including structural upgrades to its F-16 fighter jets and Turkey’s $1.5 billion sales of attack helicopters to Pakistan.
The government-owned Turkish Aerospace Industries hired one of Ankara’s go-to U.S. law firms, Greenberg Traurig LLP, and its frequent subcontractor, Capital Counsel LLC, to lobby the relevant congressional leaders and the White House to secure the requisite export licences.
“Concerned by the continued delay of the sale to Pakistan, previously unreported filings required by the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act show that Turkish Aerospace Industries-TAI (which manufactures the ATAK helicopter) hired US law firms, Greenberg Traurig LLP and its lobbying sub-contractor Capital Counsel LLC, to lobby the relevant congressional leaders and the White House to secure the requisite export licences,” according to Turkish newspaper Ahval.
The ATAK T-129 helicopter is powered by two T800-4A engines manufactured by LHTEC, a joint venture between the American firm Honeywell and the British company Rolls-Royce. The US is reportedly holding up export clearance for the LHTEC engine.
Following delay in delivering 30 ATAK helicopters, Ismail Demir, Undersecretary for Defence Industry of Turkey had stated on January 6, 2020, “Pakistan has agreed to give us another year (to deliver the helicopters). We hope we will be able to develop our indigenous engine soon to power the T129. After one year, Pakistan may be satisfied with the level of progress in our engine program, or the US may grant us the export license.”
In June this year, TAI revealed the prototype of a locally-made engine for the ATAK T-129 helicopter. The hiring of lobbyists is indicative that the new engine may not make it to Pakistan’s 1 year deadline which is only 5 months away.
In 2018, TAI signed a $1.5 billion agreement to sell a batch of 30 T129 choppers which is billed as Turkey’s single biggest arms export deal. Pakistan has kept an option of buying the Chinese Z-10 helicopter should the Turkish deal not materialize.
According to contract documents filed in the US, Greenberg Traurig and its subcontractor will be paid a monthly retainer of $25,000 “to conduct meetings with all relevant Committees in Congress, including meetings with the Chairmen, Ranking Members and the members of Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee to ensure United States legal and governmental compliance for the sale of helicopter parts for the T129 ATAK helicopter to the Pakistan Army Aviation Corps (PAAC) or to any other third party”.
Additionally, Greenberg Traurig has been hired by the Turkish government to provide general lobbying services worth $1.538 million in 2020 alone, to secure the export licence Turkish Aerospace needs from July 15 to November 15, with an option to extend for additional seven month periods. The initial period of the contract reflects the timing of the US presidential election, ahvalnews said.
The US Arms Export Control Act requires the White House to notify Congress of arms sales that exceed $25 million. The Notification allows members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFRC) an opportunity to scrutinize defense deals and put a hold on objectionable sales.
Last week, US publication Defensenews reported that SFRC and HFRC members have been holding up defense sales to Turkey including the F-35 sales, F-16 upgrade and the T-129 engine deals as punishment for Turkey buying the Russian S-400 air defence system. SFRC Chairman Jim Risch and HFRC ranking member Representative Mike McCaul told Defense News that they are participating in the informal hold.
The structural upgrades to 35 of Turkey’s ageing F-16 jets are being conducted by the U.S.’s defence giant Lockheed Martin. The company’s contract with Turkey expires this autumn, but, according to Defense News, the project will take until 2023 to complete. If Congress maintains its de facto embargo on approving new deals, Lockheed may be motivated to join lobbying efforts to convince Trump to intervene and break the congressional freeze.
With the outcome of the upcoming U.S. presidential election uncertain, Turkey and interested U.S. companies may further ratchet up pressure on the White House to take action sooner rather than later.
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