Turkey is also pushing for its T-129 ATAK helicopter (shown) gunship to replace Pakistan’s AH-1F Cobras. ()
ISLAMABAD — Turkey is trying to broaden defense industry links with Pakistan, but Pakistan’s poor financial situation is hampering efforts.
That opens the door to a possible deal with China, experts said, which carries its own set of issues.
“Pakistan is one of our closest partners in defense, and they are already buying a lot of equipment from us,” said a senior official responsible for foreign relations at Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM). “We would do whatever we can to further boost our cooperation.”
Former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, agrees.
“The recent visit by Turkey’s defense undersecretary was an indicator that Turkey remains committed to developing defense relations further,” he said.
Analyst Usman Shabbir of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank said Turkey is a valued supplier that “offers [Pakistan] a route to Western technology” such as previously purchased NATO standard communication equipment.
Turkey’s efforts were showcased at Pakistan’s biannual defense fair, the Nov. 7-11 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS).
Turkish defense software and systems integration firm Havelsan secured orders for its shipboard Genesis C4I combat management system, and is negotiating a memorandum of understanding with the Pakistani military to further co-develop simulators for JF-17, F-16, C-130 and MFI-17 Mushak/Super Mushak aircraft.
But completion of large-scale deals remains elusive.
At IDEAS 2008, Havelsan project management firm STM and defense electronics company Aselsan promoted a Pakistani-specific corvette based on Turkey’s MILGEM/Ada program, which also sought to maximize the participation of Pakistan’s private industry based on Turkey’s defense industrial experience.
This stalled due to a lack of Pakistani financial resources, but at IDEAS 2012, a Havelsan spokesman said there had been “some progress in the right direction.”
An official linked to Pakistan’s naval industry said he thought the “opportunity has passed” and both parties had “gone their separate ways and are working on their own.”
Pakistan does not have the required indigenous design experience, so this may be a ruse to lower the price of a Turkish proposal. Turkey might propose a more affordable alternative, the SSM official said.
“Turkey would do its ultimate to boost cooperation in the field of naval vessels,” he said, and these may include the type of ships produced by Turkey’s Yonca Onuk yard, which promoted its MRTP-24 and MRTP-44 concepts at IDEAS 2012.
Turkey is also now pushing its T-129 ATAK helicopter gunship to replace Pakistan’s AH-1F Cobras.
“Our aim is to export these helicopters to friendly countries, and we will continue to work toward that end,” the SSM official said.
More attack helicopters are “essential” for Pakistan to conduct operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, “notably North Waziristan,” Cloughley said.
The previously touted deal to acquire the U.S. AH-1Z helicopter is now unlikely to occur, he said. The Pentagon has stated that domestic orders for the AH-1Z must be approved first, and congressional opposition also is likely, he said. The T-129 is “the best alternative,” he said.
Gorkem Bilgi of Turkish Aerospace Industries said that the T-129 had been extensively adapted to suit Turkish military requirements, but climatic and topographical similarities between Pakistan and Turkey and similar mission profile requirements make it ideally suited for Pakistan’s needs.
Bilgi said the T-129 would be indigenous except for the U.S.-sourced LHTEC CTS800-4A engines.
Establishing a second production line for export orders would deliver the first helicopter “after 36 months.” However, negotiations for approximately 15 helicopters have stalled due to Pakistan’s poor finances.
Cloughley highlights Pakistan’s “extremely large” commitment in the Tribal Areas, its “enormous” operating costs that will increase as winter sets in, plus the likelihood of having to deploy more units due to growing pressure from militants.
“There will therefore be less cash for acquisition of capital equipment, and attack helicopters do not come cheap,” he said.
Though Turkey “cannot afford to indulge in charity,” it may be possible “to cobble together a deal, perhaps involving offsets, that Pakistan could afford, but it will take a lot of negotiation,” he said.
Bilgi said a budgetary proposal was made to Pakistan, but he did not provide details.
“It could be possible to discuss these issues with Pakistan, according to requirements of the customer in the near future,” Bilgi said.
Neither the SSM official nor Bilgi would provide a unit cost.
Zafar Jaspal, director and associate professor of the School of Politics and International Relations at Quaid-e-Azam University in Pakistan, said a deal worth up to $500 million for 15 T-129s may yet be affordable.
He said Pakistan may potentially draw on the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), “because these helicopters could be required for military operations against terrorist groups.”
The CSF reimburses Pakistan for services rendered in support of the International Security Assistance Force’s Afghan mission. In July, $1.18 billion was released for the period July 2010-May 2011.
The China Option
Jaspal concedes China may be the only alternative.
The problem is that China’s CAIC WZ-10 helicopter is new and untested, and not developed from a combat-tested design, such as the T-129, he said.
The SSM official said Turkey is not out to compete with China. “China is an important country in Asia and they have such an influence on the naval and air platforms. ... It is their [Pakistan’s and China’s] business in that part of the world.”
Though the “T-129 is a very good prospect,” Shabbir said, Turkey will not be “able to offer a very generous economic package, which the Chinese are very good at.”
He said the WZ-10 is viewed as Pakistan’s long-term insurance policy in the absence of an alternative, but as it matures, “might become the preferred choice.”
Cloughley concurs, but said, “it would take a long time for such a deal to be brokered.”
Ultimately, Shabbir said, it will come down to technological and performance comparisons, though the Western engine may count against the T-129 due to Pakistan’s fear of sanctions.
“The Pakistani-Turkish relationship is going to thrive,” he said. “The only thing limiting it is [Pakistan’s] dire financial situation, but it is not going to be like this in the long term. Things are only going to get better.”
Umit Enginsoy and Burak Ege Bekdil contributed to this report from Ankara.