US weighs in on Turkish MBT modernisation

Turkey's decision to open negotiations with Israeli Military Industries (IMI) for the modernisation of its US-made M60A1 main battle tanks (MBTs) has prompted Washington to propose that the project be done by US companies under the auspices of the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. The programme could be worth more than $1 billion.

US Deputy Undersecretary of the Army for International Affairs Gayden Thompson has written to Ankara asking that US companies should be able to compete for the project. The Turkish Land Forces Command has also been urged to reconsider the long-standing US government offer to lease 96 General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) M1A1 MBTs.

A senior GDLS source said linking the modernisation project with an M1A1 lease would offer training and logistics benefits as its M60-2000 modernisation proposal involves the installation of M1A1 turrets.

A Turkish defence industry source said that leasing M1A1s in conjunction with a modernisation programme would ease the pressure on the defence budget as the TLFC would be able to postpone the proposed $7 billion project for new MBTs.

At a 2 June Executive Committee meeting of the Turkish Defence Industries Undersecretariat (SSM), chaired by Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, it was decided that IMI would be the sole source for the M60 modernisation programme.

SSM Undersecretary Dursun Ali Ercan told Jane's Defence Weekly that although the committee had decided to ask IMI to built a prototype, it did not mean that a decision to award the full contract to the Israeli firm had been made.

Turkey has been discussing the M60 modernisation with IMI for some time. This followed the January 1999 agreement between GDLS and IMI that Israel would not offer the Merkava for new MBT projects and GDLS would not bid for the M60 modernisation programme.

The GDLS official told JDW that Thompson's proposal did not mean the US firm had broken the deal as when it was agreed it was understood that Ankara would conduct the modernisation and acquisition programmes in parallel.

"The benefit of doing modernisation and [new] MBT in sequence was that there was a clear relationship between the two from an operational as well as economic aspect and it would have had enabled a shared technology between the two. But Turkey decided on modernisation first. We are rather surprised. Because of that change, GDLS said that this has changed the situation entirely." Ercan told JDW that the German government has written to the Turkish government asking that German firms also be allowed to compete in the M60 modernisation programme.

The companies (GDLS, Giat Industries, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, Ukrspetsexport) competing for the MBT project have been asked to deliver "refinements and improvements" to their bids by 3 July. Contenders have been informed that final selection is from 15 July to November. The request for proposals (RfPs) call for four prototypes and an initial production batch of 250 vehicles out of a planned total of 1,000.

Artist's impression of the GDLS M60-2000 MBT upgrade which utilises the complete turret of the M1A1 MBT armed with a 120mm gun
(Source: GDLS)


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