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Pakistani Prime Minister confirms T129 and MILGEM talks with Turkey
November 17, 2018
T129 ATAK. Photo source: Turkish Aerospace Industries

Pakistani Prime Minister confirms T129 and MILGEM talks with Turkey

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi conducted an official visit to Turkey last week. In addition to attending the Developing-8 Organization for Economic Cooperation (D-8) Istanbul Summit, Abbasi also spoke of Pakistan’s potential defence transactions with Turkey.

On Sunday, October 22 Shahid Abbasi visited Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and flew in the TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter. Abbasi confirmed that Pakistan was “negotiating terms for the purchase” of T129 attack helicopters. This confirms earlier news reports in June of Pakistan opening talks for 30 T129s.

The Turkish news website Kokpit Aero reports that Pakistan also requested a financing arrangement for the T129s from Turkey. It adds that the Turkish government is working to allocate $1.5 billion U.S. in credit.

The Pakistan Army had selected the T129 to replace its aging AH-1F/S Cobra attack helicopters and to complement the Bell Helicopter AH-1Z Viper. Besides exploring credit to back the deal, TAI reportedly offered Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) parts manufacturing work for the T129.

Speaking to the Daily Sabah, Abbasi outlined that while there were several big-ticket programs underway between the two countries, there were also key mutually agreed upon objectives, stating, “Our shared objective is to strengthen our respective capabilities for indigenous defense production.”

Abbasi also touched upon the High-Level Military Dialogue Group (HLMDG), which he says has “significant representation from the defense sectors of both countries, meets regularly and chalks out strategies and initiatives for defense collaboration.” Abbasi added that the two countries “have significant capacities and complementarities, from which both sides are working to draw beneficial results.”

Besides noting Turkey’s order for 52 Super Mushshak trainers from Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), Abbasi also spoke about ongoing negotiations for four MILGEM Ada-class corvettes, stating, “[Turkey and Pakistan] are working on the project for four MİLGEM Ada class corvettes.”

Pakistan had signed a letter-of-intent (LOI) for the MILGEM in May, but it has yet to sign the final contract. The LOI stipulated that the ships would be constructed at Karachi Shipyard & Engineering Works (KSEW) if selected by Pakistan. Ankara had also prepared a line-of-credit for Pakistan worth $400 million U.S. for the corvettes.

Earlier in October, the Pakistan Navy’s previous Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah announced that Pakistan signed a contract with China for new frigates. Abbasi’s comments suggest that the MILGEM program is still alive and, if brought to fruition, will augment the new frigate purchase. If the deal is signed, it would follow the Pakistan Navy Fleet Tanker and Agosta 90B submarine upgrade program as Savunma Teknolojileri Muhendislik Ve Ticaret A.S.’ (STM) third naval contract in Pakistan.

The Ada has a full-load displacement of 2,300 tons. Its standard configuration includes dual quad-cell (2×4) launchers for anti-ship missiles (AShM), two triple torpedo launchers for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), a 76-mm main gun and a Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) system for short-range air defence (SHORAD).

Addendum (Nov 12. 2017): TAI General Manager Temel Kotil confirmed to Turkey’s state-owned news agency Anadolu Agency that Pakistan is negotiating for 30 T129 ATAK attack helicopters. Kotil did not provide a specific timeline as to when the deal will be signed.

Notes & Comments:

Shahid Abbasi’s statements affirm that Turkey has emerged as one of Pakistan’s leading defence suppliers, second only to China. Due to the Turkish industry’s linkage with American and Western European vendors, Turkey can emerge as a surrogate vendor of Western arms technology to Pakistan. The T129 and MILGEM are examples, though Ankara is intending to increase the domestic share of sub-systems and technologies in these and other major weapon systems.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in the T129 ATAK. Photo source: Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI)

Abbasi’s statements indicate that Pakistan is interested in collaborating with Turkey on developing defence solutions so that they can be produced between the two countries. Besides securing the supply channel from possible interruptions (e.g. foreign relations challenges), it would enable both countries to steer defence spending to their respective economies instead of costly imports.

Turkish and Pakistani officials have spoke of possible cooperation on Turkey’s Milli Muharebe Uçağı – also known as the TAI TFX – next-generation fighter. In 2016, Pakistan’s Minister of Defence Production (MoDP) revealed that PAC was invited to participate in the TFX program. In an interview with Bol Narratives in April, the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) Chief of Air Staff (CAS) stated, “We are integrating our technology with friendly countries, including Turkey. We are thinking of producing the next-generation aircraft by pooling resources with them. For this, the basic framework and agreements have been made.”

It appears that the TFX became a factor in the PAF’s next-generation fighter plans, which could see PAC and TAI collaborate closely in the development and production process. TAI will also be developing a 10-ton general purpose helicopter along with a heavier ATAK variant. Considering that Pakistan operates two legacy helicopter platforms in the Sea King and Puma, collaborating with Turkey on a Black Hawk or NH90-size utility helicopter for long-term army, navy, air force and civil services could be an option.

If finalized, the T129 ATAK could be a bridge to such a program. In 2016, the Pakistan Army evaluated the T129 and the Changhe Aircraft Industries Corporation (CAIC) Z-10 for a requirement to complement the forthcoming Bell Helicopter AH-1Z Viper. As per TAI, Pakistan was impressed with the T129’s hot-and-high performance and ferry range. Besides integrating PAC into the T129 supply channel (e.g. for spare parts), the program could also lead to bilateral collaboration in avionics, optronics and munitions development.

Interestingly, in 2016 when reports of Pakistan expressing interest in the T129 had emerged, an official from the Turkish Undersecretariat of Defence Industries (SSM) stated that the T129 was “required by the Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force. Thus, all three services [were] involved in the process.”[1] This would be interesting seeing that neither the Navy or Air Force have ever operated such assets.

The Pakistan Navy Marines have seen growth in recent years in their role of protecting Pakistan’s coastal regions. If the Marines are geared to guard the adjacent coast with India, the T129 could theoretically be a close air support (CAS) asset for that environment. These could also be integrated with Special Service Group (SSG) Navy operations. As for the PAF, it could mirror the Indian Air Force in using attack helicopters to support combat-search-and-rescue (CSAR) operations, which could see linkage with the Special Service Wing (SSW). A local support network with spare parts manufacturing and depot-level maintenance, repair and overhaul could make T129 adoption in the PAF and Navy plausible, at least in the long-term.

[1] MSI Turkish Defence Review. January 2017. “Turkey-Pakistan Defence Relations Moving to Next Level” http://www.milscint.com/en/onceki-sayilarimiz/issue-january-2017034/?type=mil