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Pakistan to begin negotiations for T129 attack helicopters from Turkey
September 20, 2017
The Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) T-129. Photo credit: TAI.

Pakistan to begin negotiations for T129 attack helicopters from Turkey

Pakistan will reportedly commence formal negotiations for the T129 ATAK attack helicopter from Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI).

According to aviation journalist Alan Warnes (via Monch Verlagsgesellschaft mbH), both sides are aiming to announce a deal, which could involve 30 aircraft, by the end of 2017 or early 2018. Turkish officials told Shephard Media that Pakistan was interested in the T129, but numbers have not yet been agreed upon.

This follows a year of active interest from Pakistan, beginning with trials in June 2016, when the Pakistan Army put the T129 ATAK (i.e. P6) through rigorous hot-and-high performance tests.

The P6 was flown at Pano Aqil when it was 50° Celsius. It was also flown at high-altitude at 14,000 feet in the Hindu Kush in the Himalayas. Endurance tests included a 480 km non-stop from Quetta to Multan.

In February, TAI’s General Manager Dr. Temel Kotil stated in a speech to the İstanbul Düşünce Vakfı (i.e. Istanbul Though Foundation) that TAI “will sell [T-129s] to Pakistan in the coming months.” Dr. Kotil also confirmed that Turkey acquired licenses to export the T129’s CTS800 turboshaft engine.

At IDEF 2017 in May, TAI and PAC had signed a memorandum-of-understanding (MoU) committing to expanding cooperation. At the end of May, Dr. Temel Kotil, visited PAC and reiterated TAI’s commitment to enable PAC to manufacture parts for the T129. PAC may also assemble T129 ATAKs.

Last week, the Pakistan Army’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa made an official visit to Turkey, where he met with TAI and inspected TAI’s T129 production site.

Pakistan also has 12 AH-1Z Viper and four Mi-35P Hind attack helicopters on order from Bell Helicopter and Russian Helicopters, respectively. The first three AH-1Z and all four Mi-35P are scheduled to arrive in Pakistan by the end of 2017.

The T129 is an upgraded variant of the AgustaWestland A129 Mangusta, which flew in 1983 and entered production that year for the Italian Army. Derived from the A129CBT, the T129 benefits from an uprated engine (i.e. LHTEC CTS800-4A), airframe modifications as well as new tail rotor and drive train.

Turkey selected the T129 in 2007 with manufacturing and third-party export rights. Aselsan, Roketsan and Havelsan developed weapons and subsystems for the T129.

Notes & Comments:

The Pakistan Army evaluated the T129 and Z-10 as part of a ‘plus-one’ requirement for attack helicopters to complement the forthcoming Bell AH-1Z. Although a program for the Pakistan Army Aviation Corps (PAA), the program apparently drew interest from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and Pakistan Navy as well.

In an interview with MSI Turkish Defence Review during Pakistan’s biennial defence exhibition IDEAS, the Deputy Undersecretary for Defence Industries (SSM) Mustafa Şeker said “The vehicle is required by the Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force. Thus, all three services are involved in the process [of evaluating the T129].” In effect, the ‘plus-one’ attack helicopter may have been slotted to have a significant impact: from forming an industry link to PAC, expanding the PAA’s Aviation Combat Group to potentially making attack helicopters available to subsets other than the Army’s infantry and armour.

In comparison to either the T129 or Z-10, the Bell AH-1Z is the larger helicopter, especially in terms of payload where it can carry 16 anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) in comparison to the eight ATGM-load of the T129 and Z-10. Pakistan took delivery of three Z-10s from China in late 2015. It had appeared that the Pakistan Army would procure the Z-10, but it is apparent that the Z-10 batch was in place for assessment. Alan Warnes reported (via Monch) of “strong speculation” of the three Z-10s in Pakistan no longer flying.

If the T129 order is inked, it would result in an acquisition roadmap of 46-49 modern attack helicopters – i.e. 12-15 AH-1Z, 30 T129 and 4 Mi-35P (a new version of the Mi-35M). Although this is similar in size to the Pakistan Army’s current fleet of AH-1F/S Cobra attack helicopters, the new fleet is vastly more capable. This is a result of integrated electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) turrets, integrated countermeasures and fire-and-forget ATGMs, such as the AGM-114R Hellfire-II and Mizrak (UMTAS).

The potential fleet composition would result in a high (AH-1Z) and low (T129) format. Though the AH-1Z is the more capable machine, the T129 would benefit from greater numbers and a local supply channel, resulting in a broader operational impact. The Mi-35P, while also an attack helicopter, can provide troop and cargo lift, making it an asset for hot-zone insertion and extraction.

This attack helicopter fleet may grow in the long-term. When Pakistan ordered its four Mi-35P, IHS Jane’s reported that the Pakistan Army could acquire up to 20 aircraft, though Russian diplomat Zamir Kabulov said that Pakistan is aiming for 10-12 Mi-35Ps. In terms of the T129, Pakistan’s pursuit for local parts manufacturing – and potentially assembly – at PAC could point to long-term fleet expansion.

Granted, linking PAC into the T129 could be viewed as TAI’s attempt to make the T129 more affordable for Pakistan, namely by providing PAC with continual exports of T129 parts and allowing Pakistan to invest some of the expense domestically (i.e. offsets). However, with PAC engaged in co-producing the T129, Pakistan would have the incentive to gradually expand its T129 fleet. Small annual batch orders of over a period of 10-15 years would amount to a sizable fleet (mirroring, albeit at a smaller scale, the PAF’s approach to inducting the JF-17 Thunder).

This would scale transfer-of-technology and maintenance infrastructure costs, but also provide the Army with a means to build its native close air support (CAS) coverage. A large attack helicopter fleet will enable the Army to take the lead on providing CAS coverage for itself, freeing the PAF’s fighter assets to focus on air defence and stand-off range strikes. This would be applicable in counterinsurgency (COIN), where PAF assets have been relied upon to provide strikes against fixed installations and time-sensitive targets, as well as in conventional anti-armour and infantry support operations.

Aselsan, Roketsan and Havelsan would have opportunities to expand activities in Pakistan through the T129. Aselsan is the principal supplier of the T129’s EO/IR turret, avionics and countermeasures suite. The Roketsan Mizrak ATGM is among the T129’s main weapons. Havelsan developed a complete simulator suite for the T129. Pakistan may have the incentive to tie sales from these companies to commercial offsets, particularly in the form of investments in or partnerships with Pakistani companies.

  • Aamir

    This is great news, it is win/win for both nations. Turkey gets to sells its platform, which will be battle tested by Pakistan. Pakistan will get a world class weapon system. I am sure there will be offsets, where turkey will invest money in Pakistani projects along with TOT plus manufacturing the parts of the T129.

    Any news of the battle rifle selection??

    • They’re still testing. A credible guy on Pakistan Defence said the 7.62x51mm competition broadened to include SiG Sauer (SiG716) and Colt (CM901).

      • mazhar

        Our top brass will never learn lessons from the past, F-16s refused, a bill in the senate to take away Non-Nato status (as it really had any status linked to it) previously a few gun makers from US also refused to sell guns to PA and here we are again pursuing SIG and Colt. Battle rifle is not out of box purchase, it’s ToT to manufacture at POF, do you think we have any chance here? I don’t think so. I don’t know why we keep picking up topics where NO is obvious which puts our national morale more towards down the hill. These types of incidents can be avoided but since we are habitual of these setbacks, so why not another one. What makes the difference.

        • Steve

          I thought CZ-806 Bren 2 was selected and we were in negotiations, from news at IDEAS 2016. Has that changed?

          • They agreed to negotiate, not sure if said talks began.

          • Mazhar J

            CZ-806 Bren 2 is a cool platform but we are looking for a doze of NO from US.

          • IMO … it may have less to do with the specific US makers (e.g. Colt) and more with further testing the AR-platform, which is the basis for several other rifles, e.g. SiG-716, MPT-76, HK 416/417, CAR-816/817, etc.

            There’s that distinct possibility of getting POF to do something similar (i.e. an AR-based design) with a mix of local and off-the-shelf means (as it had done with the LSR).

          • mazhar

            I can wish best of luck, AR indeed is a good platform. Let’s see what comes out of it.

  • John Rue

    Then cancel the order for Super Corbra. Whats the point having Russian , American , European and then Turkish helicopters. Is that sustainable? Turkey doesn’t have engine so when ban kicks in, probably they will get hit by it too. Why not to go for Mi-35 ? Pakistan couldn’t get funding for Russia deal so how it is going to workout now? May be better kick backs this time.

    • Pakistan paid $150m for the first 4 Mi-35P. They’ve basically been using on-hand cash to buy the Hinds in small batches. The US and Turkish stuff is basically coming via installments/credit lines.

    • Steve

      We need a heavier, more agile helicopter for CAS in the plains and deserts. We face rapid shallow armour incursions and a fleet of AH-1Z fits the bill perfectly for deterring adventures. PA obviously know what they are doing.

      • Keyser

        Also the selection of the T129 would make a bit more sense from the logistical point. The T129 can use the Hellfires,The AIM9/stingers and other disposables that the AH-1Z will.

        • Steve

          But 12 are not enough. Need about 30 to make a difference. May be looking at a follow on order when the new administration’s intentions are clearer.

          • Keyser

            Indeed that why I think they will go for 40 or so T129’s They will operate better than the Z10 which is underpowered. If Hellfires get blocked then there are other options such as the Turkish UMTAS

  • Shakeel

    As part of the offset package, are we going to create an assembly line or just a spare parts manufacturer. To uplift Pak aviation sector it would be better to create a new assembly line. Pak needs to utilise it’s existing human resource capacity wisely? Can you shed some light on this issue?

    • Alan Warnes confirmed parts manufacturing, but several good news outlets (e.g. Aviation Week) have reported assembly as well. I suspect both will ultimately happen, but parts manufacturing will be more important IMO as that’ll provide some local supply channel support for the helicopter (e.g. spare parts) and exports to Turkey and 3rd party buyers.

      • Shakeel

        Thank you Bilal. Your point about the creation of a local supply chain is a good point. The programme shows good potential.

  • M. I. Aslam

    Good to know we’ve reached some decision between Turkish and Chinese competition. Bilal, I would request for an article comparing Turkish and Chinese helicopters and compelling reasons for our choice because as I get it Turkey is not sole proprietor in the project however Chinese may come with ToT.

  • Asif Khan_47

    Do you think T129 has link-16 or has the capacity to communicate with Saab Erieye and Karakom-8

    • AFAIK neither the T129 or AH-1Z use Link-16. Generally, Link-16 is for connecting radar feeds between different assets for air combat. The U.S. Army began integrating Link-16 to the AH-64E relatively recently (2013). Unlike the AH-1Z and T129, the AH-64E also has the AN/APG-78 millimeter wave radar.

      The T129 and AH-1Z do not have radars (yet). That said, the AH-1Z’s H-1 avionics suite does have an optional provision for data-link, but it doesn’t specify if it’s Link-16 or something else. In either case, it shouldn’t be difficult to integrate a protocol for sharing and receiving sensor information and communicating with friendlies.

      The ideal scenario would be to have a tactical data-link (TDL) enabling for the T129/AH-1Z to read synthetic aperture radar (SAR) info (from the King Air 350ER) and, when available, to share millimeter wave radar feeds from their own future radars (Turkey is developing one for the T129).

  • Ali Afzal

    Hope we really buy it… we need more gunship helicopters so buying 30 aircrafts would be sensible.

  • Shafiq Ahmed

    Dear Mr Bilal Assalam o Alaikum
    I read in an article at QUWA that a MoU was signed between MoDP of Pakistan Rana Tanveer and top officials from TAI in which satisfaction was expressed over ongoing cooperation between Turkey and Pakistan on TFX, Milgem Corvettes and T 129.In my view most important program for Pakistan is TFX in the current scenario where we are going to see F 16 block 70 being exported from india.I wanted to ask is Pakistan also moving forward with TFX ??? Any updates

    • The PAF hasn’t said much about 5th-gen fighters besides saying that PAC Kamra would have a lead role. It’s through the MoDP that we know Turkey invited Pakistan into the TFX, we’ll need to wait and see how that pans out.

  • Paul Baggio

    I believe Trumpet are more hostile than Obama against Pakistan! It would be better if Pakistan buying more Mi-35 while waiting for Turkey to develop their own indigenous engine. The chance than Trumpet might imposed ban on military equipment on Pakistan getting stronger due to influence by Hindu Terrorist known as Narendra ‘The Butcher of Gujerat’ Modi!

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