After the US and Turkey breached the export contract, China has stepped in to deliver attack helicopters to Pakistan thus cementing its place to become the biggest and most reliable defence partner of Pakistan.
Moving past its tussle with Russia and the United States, China, in the last two decades, has emerged as a global superpower and a big defence exporter. This has helped the country to form close defence ties with Iran, Thailand and other countries in Africa and Latin America.
Arguably, the biggest defence alliance that China has been able to etch has been with Pakistan. Acquiring a range of defence systems from HQ-16 air defence systems to C-802 cruise missiles and Type 054 Class frigates, Pakistan has now relied on China for all its defence requirements.
Several of Pakistan’s domestic weapons have been incorporated from Chinese technologies such as the JF-17 fighter to the Nasr nuclear rocket artillery. Despite China being its leading arms supplier, Pakistan, in a bid to diversify their fleet shortlisted new attack helicopters and signed a contract with the US and Turkey to acquire AH-IZ and T129.
Contracts were issued from Islamabad for the purchase of 12 units of AH-IZ in 2015 and 30 Turkish T129 in 2018. While the T129 has an underwhelming presence in Turkey, the AH-IZ represents a platform at the lower end of the American fleet.
The AH-IZ sale has been on hold for years as Washington decided to cut defence funding to Pakistan. On the other hand, the T129 is being marketed as a Turkish indigenous design despite a large chunk of its technology mimicking the western units.
Following the failure of both the United States and Turkey to deliver the choppers, Pakistan Major, General Syed Najeeb Ahmed hinted at the possibility of new attack helicopter contracts. He further went onto say that in case of the first two options, that is America and Turkey, fails, they would proceed with the third option – China, which is manufacturing its new attack helicopter called the Z-10ME.
The urgency of Pakistan stems from the fact that its ageing Cobra Attack Helicopters, Bell AH-1F, that is four dozen in service, is set to retire. The need for a higher version of attack helicopters is also to attain parity with the Indian Apaches that would overwhelm the Cobras.
A deadline of July 2020 has been set by Pakistan to acquire Chinese Z-10 attack helicopter. There are also speculations of the Islamic nation considering Russia’s Ka-52 alligators.