ISLAMABAD — Pakistan and Turkey on Friday signed a deal for 30 Turkish Aerospace Industries T129 ATAK helicopter gunships, according to a statement by Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defence Industries.
The T129 is a development of the Italian Agusta A129 Mangusta. Among other features, it includes Turkish sensors and weaponry and powerful engines to boost hot and high capabilities, something essential for Turkey’s operational environment, but which also clinched selection of the type for Pakistan.
Though potent, the AH−1F Cobra gunships presently in Pakistani service (that were acquired in the 1980s), are not only worn in the tooth but lack the capability to perform adequately over the higher altitudes of the Hindu Kush mountain range separating Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The T129 was tested extensively in Pakistan at the height of summer months in 2016, and a TAI official later told Defense News they had been very surprised by just how harsh the conditions were. Still, they were pleased with the T129’s performance, which also greatly impressed the Pakistan Army.
China previously sent three of its CAIC Z−10 helicopter gunships for trials in Pakistan, but it appears they failed to sufficiently impress and have been returned to China.
A small number of Mil Mi−35M Hind helicopter gunships were also delivered to Pakistan by Russia earlier this year. Though more may be procured, they are not expected to serve in large numbers and are generally intended for counterterror operations.
“But perhaps the most important message is that Pakistan is moving further away from Washington, politically,” according to Brian Cloughley, a former Australian defense attache and analyst. “It would be a comparatively minor defense sale for the US.., but the significance is that Pakistan is choosing to move closer to other countries, none of which wish to be in or restricted to Washington’s sphere of influence.”
The key to the T129’s flight performance are its twin LHTEC CTS800–4A turboshaft engines that also power the 12 AH−1Z Viper attack helicopters ordered from the U.S. These are yet to be delivered, and such a timescale remains unclear in light of present bilateral relations.
The earliest solid indication that the T129 would be entering Pakistani service was when three helicopters took part in the March 23 Pakistan Day parade this year.
Little further information was forthcoming, but the T129 deal is widely reported to be worth some $1.5 billion, making it one of Turkey’s largest-single defense export deals to date.
Turkey offered Pakistan a $1.5 billion credit line in 2017, but the deal’s payment terms are unknown.
Turkish media reports stated the deal would also include ammunition, logistics, spares and training.
The weapon’s package is likely to include the Roketsan Cirit laser-guided 70mm missile and the UMTAS long-range anti-tank missile, which the company told Defense News it was promoting to Pakistan regardless of whether the T129 was selected.
Turkey had previously offered to set up an assembly facility in Pakistan as part of efforts to sweeten the deal, and an official from Pakistan Aeronautical Complex earlier told Defense News that local assembly was still being offered.
However, bar revealing the helicopters will be delivered incrementally over five years, there is nothing to indicate local assembly is part of the deal, and this may have been replaced with an agreement for parts manufacturing.
Usman Ansari is the Pakistan correspondent for Defense News.