Thursday, September 29, 2022

Denied To Pakistan, ‘Iron Brother’ Turkey Delivers The First Batch Of T-129 ATAK Helicopters To The Philippines

The Philippines Air Force (PAF) announced the arrival of the first batch of Turkish-made T-129 ATAK helicopters on March 9.

“The PAF welcomes the arrival of two units of T129 ‘ATAK’ helicopters onboard the (Airbus) A-400M from Turkey at 30 minutes past midnight March 9, 2022, at Clark Air Base, Mabalacat City, Pampanga,” Air Force spokesperson Lt. Col. Maynard Mariano was quoted as saying by Philippine News Agency (PNA).

One of the A-400Ms carried the two helicopters while the other aircraft transported the initial logistics requirement of the two T-129s, Mariano told the PNA.

Philippines has placed a purchase order of approximately $280 million for a total of six helicopters designed and developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI).

The T-129 ATAK is a derivative of the Italian-designed AgustaWestland A129 Mangusta, equipped with Turkish-developed avionics and weapon systems. It is a next-generation, two-seat (tandem), twin-engine helicopter designed for attack and reconnaissance missions in hot and high environments and rough geography in both day and night conditions.

T-129 ATAK helicopter
The T-129 ATAK helicopter (Wikimedia Commons)

The suit of Electronic Warfare and Counter-measures (ECM) onboard the chopper features Radar Warning Receiver System (RIAS), Radar Frequency Mixer System (RFKS) and Laser Receiver System (LIAS) in addition to Warning System (FIS), Countermeasure Firing System (KTAS), IR (Infrared), and Countermeasure System.

The attack helicopter is equipped with 20 mm three-barrel rotary cannon in a nose turret with 500 munitions capacity; up to 76 unguided 70mm rockets for close air support; 8 UMTAS anti-tank missiles; 16 CIRIT laser-guided missiles; and 8 Stinger air-to-air missiles.

T-129 ATAK has an integrated control system specially built for it, dubbed as HUNTER Kaska which automatically adjusts the target detection and weapons systems with the pilot’s line of sight.

The helicopter is in service with the Turkish Army and other armed services of the country including the Turkish Gendarmerie. The Philippines is the first foreign country to have acquired the T129 ATAK.

“It will undergo inspection, acceptance (test), test flights before the acceptance ceremonies can be done and it will go through a lot of orientation in (the) country, together with the pilots and the crew,” Mariano said.

He added that he expects the two T129 helicopters to be commissioned within one or two months at the most.

Once commissioned, the helicopters will be assigned to the 15th Strike Wing of the PAF, whose pilots and crew have received training on the helicopter at the TAI headquarters in Ankara between May and August.

The T-129 ATAK helicopter
The T-129 ATAK helicopter (Wikimedia Commons)

The aircraft will be the first dedicated attack helicopter operated by the Philippines, and the 15th Strike Wing will fly them alongside its MD530G light attack and Leonardo A109 armed transport helicopters.

The country previously used its armed helicopters in operations against a number of insurgencies — with which it is currently contending — mostly on its southernmost islands where separatist and Islamic State-linked militants are active.

What Caused The Delay

The sale had been delayed due to the export license barrier, as T129 is powered by LHTEC CTS800-4N engine produced by a joint venture between a US company Honeywell and British Rolls Royce, and foreign companies have an obligation to obtain export permits for US military-grade commercial sales.

So even though Turkey has full marketing and intellectual property rights for the T129 platform; and it can export the platform to third-party nations, the American engine used on the helicopter gives the US a veto over any prospective export sales.

However, in May 2021 the US State Department gave the green light to the export of T129 choppers to the Philippines, as Washington views Manila as a key partner in Southeast Asia.

Additionally, both the US and the Philippines are concerned about Beijing’s aggressive actions in pursuit of its sovereignty claims over islands across the South China Sea (SCS) which has prompted Manilla to increase military spending with the aim of enhancing its fighter capability.

In 2018, Pakistan chose the T-129 to replace its fleet of AH−1F Cobra gunships acquired during the 1980s. Islamabad had signed a $1.5 billion contract with TAI for 30 T129s. However, the US declined to issue the export license for the engines.

The US remains concerned, especially amid the increasing bonhomie between Islamabad and Beijing, that the engines for the attack helicopters could add to Pakistan’s ground-attack capability against India, Washington’s reliable partner in the Indo-Pacific to counter China.

“In the case of Pakistan, it is unlikely that Washington would be prepared to provide such equipment should there be a conflict with India,” former Australian defense attache to Islamabad Brian Cloughley told the Defense News.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has been giving extensions to its deal with TAI, as the latter’s subsidiary, Tusaş Engine Industries (TEI), develops an indigenous engine for the T-129, the turboshaft TEI-TS1400, which will also power Turkey’s first indigenous T625 multirole helicopter named ‘Gökbey’.

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