Turkish T129 ATAK Helicopters Cleared For Sale To Philippines But Pakistan’s Proposal Still ‘Hangs Fire’

The Turkish T129 ATAK helicopter, a locally produced variant of the Augusta Westland’s Eurocopter Tiger, has been cleared for sale to the Philippines. But a similar proposal from Pakistan is hanging fire.

Manila announced on May 26 that it would purchase six helicopters from Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) by September.

The proposed sale to the Philippines was given a green light by Washington and was announced by TAI president in February. Interestingly, TAI has been denied this license when it came to Pakistan.

The Turkish-made T129 ATAK attack helicopter is a twin-engine tandem-seat gunship based on Augusta Westland A129, featuring Turkish avionics and weaponry. This helicopter is powered by two LHTEC T800-4A Turboshaft engines, each of which can produce 1,014 kilowatts of power. 

These engines are made by a joint venture between Rolls-Royce and Honeywell and come under export regulations of the United States government. Unhappy with Pakistan in recent years, Washington has barred Turkey from exporting these engines to Islamabad. This could also be a fallout of Turkey’s S-400 deal with Russia.

Pakistan had been looking for a new attack helicopter to replace its aging American AH-1F Cobra gunships acquired in the 1980s. To follow this, it placed an order of 15 new AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters with the United States.

In April 2015, the US State Department had approved a possible Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to Pakistan for 15 AH-1Z Vipers with Hellfire missiles, associated equipment and support worth up to $952 million, and the country was to receive 9 AH-1Z helicopters by September 2018. 

Later, Pakistan’s order was placed on hold due to political tensions. Of the 12 aircraft ordered, nine have been built but are stored at the 309th AMARG base in Arizona.

Amid such uncertainty, Pakistan turned to its ally Turkey and placed an order for 30 T129 gunships in 2018 itself. However, Islamabad might have not realized the American roadblocks, and the manufacturer (TAI) could not obtain a necessary export permit from Washington for LHTEC T800 engines to be sold to Pakistan. 

Meanwhile, a Turkish aerospace official previously told DefenseNews that the engine isn’t the only hiccup.

“There are other components the Americans can refuse to issue export licenses for,” he said. “We have the impression that the T129 deal would not go through without a political go-ahead from Washington.”

But the Biden administration has given a go-ahead to the Philippines. According to DefenseNews, the approvals are not given specifically to Turkey or the manufacturer.

These are issued for the end-user country, which in this case, is the Philippines. Washington has been apprehensive about Pakistan using these helicopters against India, which could be a reason for its denial of permission to sell the choppers to Islamabad.  

Of late, India and the US have strengthened their ties, especially in the wake of the Chinese aggression from the Himalayas to the South China Sea.