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Pakistan May Revise Attack Helicopter Procurement Plans

In an effort to urgently supplant its aging Bell AH-1F/S Cobra attack helicopters, the Pakistan Army could look to China if its current procurement pipeline does not come to fruition.

Speaking at Defence IQ’s 2020 International Military Helicopter Conference, the Pakistan Army Aviation (PAA) Corps’ Commander, Major Gen. Syed Najeeb Ahmed, outlined that the PAA will look at the Chinese Z-10ME attack helicopter if Pakistan is unable to acquire both the AH-1Z Viper and T129 ATAK.[1]

Originally, the PAA should have been in the process of inducting 12 AH-1Zs (with an option three additional aircraft) and 30 T129s. However, the AH-1Z and T129 are falling victim to strenuous relations between Washington and its previously vital defence partners in Islamabad and Ankara, respectively.

The AH-1Z is technically available, but Pakistan insists on funding it using Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and Coalition Support Funds (CSF) – two assistance instruments the Trump Administration froze in 2017. Otherwise, Pakistan opted not to use its own national funds to finance its AH-1Z purchase (and it walked away from doing the same for eight approved F-16C/D Block-52+ in 2016).

The T129 is struggling as a result of Ankara’s chill in relations with Washington over the former’s insistence on acquiring the S-400 air defence system from Russia. The US ejected Turkey from the F-35 Lightning II fighter program. It is possible (though neither side openly confirmed it) the impasse over the re-exporting licenses for the T129’s LHTEC (Light Helicopter Turbine Engine Company) turboshaft engines is a result of current tensions between Turkey and the US. Pakistan is giving Turkey an additional year to secure these licenses, though Turkish officials hope Pakistan will wait on Turkey’s indigenous engine alternative.

New Attack Helicopters are Urgently Needed

The crux of Maj. Gen. Ahmed’s concern is that the PAA needed an urgent successor to its current mainstay attack helicopter, the venerable – but aging – AH-1F/S Cobra. In fact, this is not a new issue, the previous PAA Commander, Maj. Gen. Nasir D. Shah, had outlined the same concern in 2018…

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[1] Dominic Perry. “Pakistan considers Chinese attack helicopters on back of stalled AH-1Z, T129 deals.” Flight Global. 26 February 2020. URL: