The Pakistani Army’s long wait for attack helicopters could soon be over as reports indicate that Islamabad might be inching closer to a deal of T-129 ATAK with close ally Turkey.
According to an official of the Pakistan Army, the Turkish-built T-129 ATAK helicopter is still on their shopping list and “very much under consideration”.
Speaking at the Defence IQ’s virtual International Military Helicopter 2021 conference on February 24, the official said that “the contract is a bit delayed because of certain third-party approvals”. Notably, the deal, which was originally signed in July 2018 for about $1.5 billion, had hit a major roadblock after the United States halted the export of the helicopter’s engines.
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.
It was reported that Washington has put a halt to major deals for Turkey including the F-35s, F-16 upgrade kits, and the T-129 engine as a “punishment” for Ankara’s decision to go ahead with the Russian S-400 Triumf purchase.
Following this, Turkey was given a one-year extension by Pakistan to materialize with the engine acquisition, while also eyeing the Chinese Z-10 attack helicopters in case the T-129 deal falls through.
Ismail Demir, Undersecretary for Defence Industry of Turkey, had said 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.”
— Turkish Aerospace (@TUSAS_EN) September 2, 2019
In August 2020, Ankara had reportedly hired a Washington-based firm to lobby for its export license interests. “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 licenses,” said a Turkish media report.
In April 2015, the US State Department had approved possible Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to Pakistan for 15 AH-1Z Vipers with Hellfire missiles, associated equipment and support worth up to $952 million. Pakistan was to receive 9 AH-1Z helicopters by September 2018.
As of July 2018, Pakistan’s order has been placed on hold, due to political tensions between Washington and Islamabad, allegedly over Indian concerns. Of the order of 12 aircraft, nine have been built but are stored at the 309th AMARG base in Arizona, awaiting a solution to the friction between the two countries.
Pakistan then looked to procuring the T-129 ATAK attack helicopters from Turkey when it lost hopes from the United States. “We are still looking forward to accomplishing the contract with the Turkish government,” the Pakistani official said at the event.
The TAI/AgustaWestland T129 ATAK is a twin-engine, tandem seat, multi-role, all-weather attack helicopter based on the Agusta A129 Mangusta platform. The T129 was developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) with partner AgustaWestland, for advanced attack and reconnaissance missions in hot and high environments and rough geography in both day and night conditions.
The ATAK program was begun to meet the Turkish Armed Forces’ requirements for an attack and tactical reconnaissance helicopter. The T129 is the result of the integration of Turkish-developed avionics, airframe modifications, and weapon systems into the AgustaWestland A129 airframe, with upgraded engines, transmission and rotor blades.
It is being used by the Turkish Army and is being offered to other services as well. Similar to the Pakistan deal, the Philippines had also been eyeing the helicopter, but no orders have been made due to the engine export permit issues.