Recently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Turkey and Pakistan’s largest ever defense contract. Ankara will be selling 30 Turkish T129 ATAK multirole combat helicopters to Islamabad in a deal that has been in negotiations since 2014. The Pakistan-Turkey defense contract marks the first export of the T129 helicopter.
The deal was officially disclosed on May 24.
The T129s are made by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), licensed by Italian-British AgustaWestland. According to TAI, the helicopters feature 97 percent sovereign production.
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The deal has been ongoing since 2014 because the T129s underwent many tests in Pakistan before the deal was finalized. The helicopters were recently featured in a military parade on Pakistani National Day, March 23.
Turkey has stated they believe they will sell more T129 helicopters to Pakistan, as well as other countries. A Turkish defense official said, “We expect further [T-129] contracts to follow the order from Pakistan. We are in talks with a number of countries.”
Jordan, Azerbaijan, and Libya are rumored to be potential buyers, although Ankara refused to disclose these details.
While Ankara has not revealed the value of the new defense contract with Pakistan, industry experts estimate the contract to be worth $1.5 billion. Turkey’s entire defense exports were worth $1.77 billion in 2017, making the deal with Pakistan a huge milestone for Ankara. Turkey aims to increase defense and aerospace exports to $10 billion by 2021.
The first of the T129 helicopters were delivered by TAI to Pakistan in 2014. The deal will include 59 helicopter gunships delivered to Pakistan total. Islamabad will have the option of ordering an additional 32 helicopters from TAI. Additionally, TAI and Pakistan are in negotiations for Islamabad to purchase the Hurkus basic trainer aircraft.
The T129 Helicopter
The T129 is the first domestically produced in Turkey under license. They feature:
“a tandem seat, twin-engine and NATO-interoperability for attack, armed reconnaissance, and precision-strike and deep-strike mission capabilities for day and night and in all weather conditions.
The T129 incorporates asymmetric weapon-loading capability and enables the use of all weapons according to mission requirements. For close-combat support missions, a 20mm gun turret with a capacity of 500 rounds as well as 70mm rockets with a capacity of 76 rockets have been integrated.”
So far, TAI has delivered 35 T129s to the Gendarmerie force and Turkish Army. Turkey already uses the multipurpose helicopters against Kurdish rebels at its southeastern border.
Enhancing the Fleet
Since 2014, Pakistan has been working to replace their ageing fleet of Bell AH-1 Cobras. Pakistan Army Aviation commander Major General Nasir Shah had said Pakistan was only considering a small number of options for replacement. Islamabad has ordered 12 US-built Bell AH-1Z Vipers and has been testing the Chinese-made Z-10 since 2014. Pakistan also recently received four Russian Mi-35 attack helicopters.
General Shah told the IQPC Military Helicopter conference in London on January 31, “Army Aviation has plans to further enhance its attack helicopter fleet, and various options are currently being considered and evaluated.”
“The [current 32] AH-1 helicopters have provided effective close support for our ground forces engaged in counter-insurgency [COIN] operations, but they cannot be employed effectively in high-altitude operations above 8,000 ft,” he said.
The sale of the T129s to Pakistan was announced in a manifest published by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), ahead of upcoming general elections to be held in June. The manifesto divulged few details of the sale, but simply stated, “a very short while ago a contract for the sale of 30 attack helicopters was signed with Pakistan.”
President Erdogan is widely favored to win reelection in the June 24 elections, both due to his popularity and suspicions of potential election fraud. The elections were originally scheduled for November 2019. Erdogan announced snap elections, moving them forward to June. Critics and commentators believed this move was meant to prevent the opposition from being able to properly organize.
Changes made last year also grant the president sweeping new powers, including the right to declare a state of emergency. However, these powers will not go into effect until the next elections. Experts speculate snap elections were a tactic for Erdogan to more quickly attain new powers.