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Turkey Books $3 billion in Pakistani Defence Deals

Since 2016, Turkey has booked nearly $3 billion US in big-ticket defence sales to Pakistan, with sold items ranging from 30 Turkish Aerospace T129 ATAK attack helicopters, four MILGEM Ada corvettes, a mid-life subsystems upgrade for Pakistan’s three Agosta 90B submarines to spate of smaller projects.[1][2][3] Through these programs, Turkey has cemented its position as one of Pakistan’s leading arms suppliers, second only to China and, in turn, effectively coming ahead of the US and Western Europe.

However, could Pakistan’s trust in the Turkish defence industry (quantifiable in $3 billion US worth of big-ticket expenditure) extend to more than just off-the-shelf procurement? With China, not only has Pakistan been able to secure capable big-ticket systems – such as the Type 054A frigate and Hangor (II) submarine – but it is able to develop strategically valuable conventional and deterrence capabilities.

Be it the Hangor (II) submarine, instrumented weapons test range or space satellite procurement, China is evidently equipping Pakistan to both develop and deploy land-attack cruise missiles (LACM). There is no scope for such access in the US or Western Europe. Rather, the US both rejects and, in fact, works to obstruct Pakistan’s efforts in strategically sensitive domains through sanctions and embargoes.[4]

Thus, it would be erroneous to expect Turkish-Pakistani defence ties to match in equivalence to those of China and Pakistan. However, there are more to Pakistan’s defence needs to simply strategically valuable capabilities, such as a myriad of tactical scenarios, such anti-submarine warfare (ASW) or close air support (CAS), where high-quality weapon systems could be sought.

Turkey is Supplying Mainstay Assets

Of the signs that Pakistan is taking Turkey seriously is the fact that it is now relying on the Turks to supply mainstay assets, i.e. weapon systems that are to drive the majority of operational roles in their respective domains. For example, the T129 is slated to be the Pakistan Army Aviation Corps’ (PAA) mainstay attack helicopter by supplanting the legacy AH-1F/S from frontline use.[5] From counterinsurgency (COIN) missions to conventional anti-armour operations, the PAA will call upon the T129, which means that the T129 will serve an indispensable role. Likewise for the Ada, which will form one-third of the Pakistan Navy’s (PN) 2,000+ ton surface combatant fleet (alongside four Type 054A and four F-22P frigates).

It should be noted that both (i.e. attack helicopters and corvettes) could have been bought from China – i.e. at a lower-cost and, potentially, at no risk of sanctions (compared to the T129 and Ada). However, the Pakistan Army (PA) and PN have opted to not only spend a sizable portion of their respective budgets on Turkish solutions, but have opted for Turkish solutions to fulfill tactical – i.e. CAS and ASW – requirements. It is evident that these purchases are not novelties or inconsequential to Pakistan’s defence needs; rather, they are integral (albeit with a contingency in China should trade controls or restrictions arise).

Thus, it appears that Pakistan is sourcing equipment that is essential, but not strategically relevant where the US or Western Europe would be an obstacle. For example, the Hangor submarines under construction at China as slated to deploy submarine launched cruise missiles (SLCM) which – in all likelihood – Pakistan is poised to tip with miniaturized nuclear warheads. Likewise, the new instrumented weapons test-range built at Sonmiani will be used to continue developing those SLCMs. Building upon that, Pakistan could, at least in theory, use a space satellite program to build a target library and, potentially, guide its SLCMs.

Strategically relevant is where China’s support (or at least access to Chinese goods) is essential. However, in Turkey, Pakistan has found a source where it can procure high-quality (i.e. NATO Standard) weapons to help it close specific technology and capability gaps with India. For example, as the Indian Army proceeds with its procurement of K9 Thunder 155mm/52-calibre tracked self-propelled howitzers (SPH), Pakistan is reportedly interested in Turkey’s T-155 Firtina tracked SPH, itself derived from the K9.[6] In terms of the al-Khalid II main battle tank (MBT), “Aselsan could be supplying next-generation electronics for the tank.”[7]

In fact, in January 2016 the Turkish Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSB) head, Dr. İsmail Demir, told the Turkish National Assembly that Pakistan expressed interest in the Altay MBT.[8] Of course, it is far from certain if the PA would embrace a heavyweight (60+ ton) MBT such as the Altay, but the Altay does epitomize Turkey’s place to Pakistan. Turkey is an accessible source for numerous NATO Standard defence systems that offer qualitative parity to India’s purchases. Granted, Pakistan’s fiscal constraints will always limit its ability to procure those Turkish arms, but with the Altay (and others), Pakistan need not deal with the pro-Indian lobbying or regulatory challenges found in the US, France, Germany or the UK.

Why Turkey?

It is evident that Turkey offers Pakistan a source for current NATO Standard designs without (or at least as much of) the regulatory hurdles Pakistan tends to face in London, Paris, Berlin or Washington. However, there are other factors as well, not least the fact that Turkey enables Western vendors to engage Pakistan without as much risk to losing their commercial prospects in India. For example, the German-owned firm Hensoldt is supplying optronic sensors and pulse-Doppler radars for the PN’s Agosta 90B submarines through STM, the lead-contractor of the upgrade program.[9][10] However, in tandem with Turkey’s defence industry development, these vendors are shifting their intellectual property (IP) to Turkey. In turn, Turkey is poised to manufacture – and export – original designs that will, albeit indirectly, benefit those vendors.

It is in this respect where the Turkish factor could potentially become very significant, not just for Pakistan but for South Asia as a whole. For example, in 2017 Turkish Aerospace contracted BAE to provide design and engineering assistance for the TF-X, Turkey’s national next-generation fighter program.[11] Hiccups over IP transfers notwithstanding, Rolls-Royce is among the leading contenders to help Turkey’s TR Motor and BMC to develop the TF-X’s turbofan engine.[12] Should the TF-X materialize through support from BAE and Rolls-Royce, it would, fundamentally speaking, be a Western fighter platform.

In 2016 and 2017, Turkish and Pakistani officials have linked the PAF to the TF-X on numerous occasions:

First, in August 2016 when the then Minister of Defence Production (MoDP), Rana Tanveer Hussain, stated that Turkey invited Pakistan to participate in the TFX, at least in terms of “helping with integration.”[13]

In November 2016, then Secretary of the MoDP, Lt. General (retired) Syed Muhammad Owais, stated:

“Importantly, joint collaboration on 5th generation fighter aircraft, commonly known as Turkish Fighter Development [TF-X] Program, will be a true flagship project between Pakistan and Turkey. Currently, the details and scope of collaboration and participation is being worked between the two governments for jointly undertaking this strategic project, which would further open new vistas of mutual cooperation of defence industries of the two countries.”[14]

In April 2017, the PAF’s previous Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Sohail Aman 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…”[15]

In May 2017, British aviation journalist Alan Warnes, who had been in direct contact with the PAF, stated:

“No [Pakistan] agreement with [Turkish Aerospace Industries] on TF-X, but sometime in near future it’s likely to figure in PAF’s new generation fighter aircraft requirement.”[16]

Thus, at the minimum, the TF-X could plausibly be a next-generation Western fighter option for the PAF, a prospect that has all but ended since the PAF’s inability to procure additional new-built F-16s from the U.S. Should it succeed with the TF-X, Turkey could revive that prospect for the PAF, which could (albeit as speculation) see the PAF supplant its F-16A/B Block-15s with a Western fighter from the 2030s.

Turkey’s national long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) program – which is being undertaken as a joint-venture with the French-Italian SAM consortium Eurosam – could also be of interest to Pakistan. Likewise for a wide-range of defence systems, be it stand-off jamming or other special mission aircraft, air defence systems, transport aircraft and many others that Turkey is aiming to manufacture.

However, there is also more to Turkey than just accessibility. For Turkey, the affordability or sustainability of this many defence programs, especially from a procurement standpoint, is contingent on scale. Hence, Ankara is now actively pushing for exports. Of its prospects, Pakistan is arguably its largest external means to generate such scale (especially as the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates commit the vast majority of their fiscal resources arms directly from the US and Western Europe).

In other words, Pakistan can wield a measure of leverage which it can direct for financing/credit terms or, potentially, workshare and transfer-of-technology (ToT). Thus, “integrating … with friendly countries” and “pooling resources” (i.e. ACM Sohail Aman’s words) is a genuine possibility with Turkey, which can accrue cost-savings (if not directly, then at least in terms of channelling that expenditure to Pakistan’s economy as a stimulus) that cannot be had by directly importing from the US or Europe.

[1] Press Release. “Pakistan Navy Signed Contract for Acquisition of 4x MILGEM class warships with Turkey.” Press Information Department. Ministry of Information. Government of Pakistan. 05 July 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 06 July 2018).

[2] “Turkish attack helicopter deal with Pakistan worth around $1.5 billion: sources.” Reuters. 13 July 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 13 July 2018).

[3] “Defense Industry Focuses on Quality and Quantity to Step-up Turkey’s Exports.” Defence Turkey. 30 September 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 28 December 2017).

[4] Anwar Iqbal. “US sanctions seven Pakistani entities.” Dawn News. 31 December 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 21 July 2018).

[5] Alan Warnes. “Pakistan Army Aviation: Special Report 2013”. Tangent Link. URL: (Last Accessed: 14 February 2018).

[6] Daksh Nakra. “Eastern Armour: Asian spending on armoured vehicles during the next decade is likely to reach USD166 billion.” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 12 January 2018.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Turkey’s first domestic tank sees big regional demand.” The Hurriyet Daily News. 07 January 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 21 July 2018).

[9] Richard Scott. “New periscope, optronic mast for Pakistan Agosta 90B submarines.” IHS Jane’s Navy International. 25 October 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 28 December 2017).

[10]  Press Release. “SharpEye Radar for Pakistan Navy Submarine Upgrade.” 21 November 2017. URL:

[11] Burak Ege Bekdil. “Turkey, UK officials meet over status of Turkish jet program.” Defense News. 16 January 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 21 July 2018).

[12] Laura Pitel, Peggy Hollinger and David Bond. “Turkey and UK battle to save fighter jet project.” Financial Times. 12 June 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 21 July 2018).

[13] “Pakistan this Week with Mansoor Azam Qazi.” Interview with Minister of Defence Production Rana Tanveer Hussain. PTV. 21 August 2016. Accessible on YouTube. URL: (Urdu).

[14] Birol Tekince. “IDEAS serves as a platform to portray a positive and realistic image of Pakistan.” MSI Turkish Defence Review. November 2016. Issue. 31.

[15] Amir Zia. Interview with Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Sohail Aman. Bol Narratives. 01 April 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 23 December 2017).

[16] Alan Warnes. 11 May 2017. Twitter. URL: Last accessed: 12 December 2017

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