Pakistan has again agreed to give six more months extension to a deal with Turkey for T129 Atak helicopters, ordered in 2018.
Defense News, a US-based defense publication reported that Turkey’s top procurement official, Ismail Demir, told them on 12th March, “We have obtained a six-month extension from Pakistan.”
However, according to Defense News, this does not mean that the current restrictions placed on Turkey by Washington will be uplifted and the deal will be executed.
The Turkish-Pakistani deal has become a victim of US-Turkey tensions over Washington’s decision to place sanctions on the long-time NATO ally for deciding to go with the Russian defense technology.
The Pakistan-Turkey deal happened in 2018 when Pakistan signed a $1.5 billion contract with the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) for 30 T129 Atak helicopters. These helos would be replacing Pakistan’s current fleet of American AH-1F cobra gunship helicopters obtained in the 1980s.
However, before the deal takes any practical form, the TAI must secure export licenses from the US government, which have been denied in the past due to the current political situation between the two countries.
The T129 is a twin-engine multirole attack helicopter produced under license from the Anglo-Italian company AgustaWestland and based on the A129 Mangusta. It is powered by two LHTEC T800-4A turboshaft engines. Each engine can produce 1,014 kilowatts of output power.
LHTEC, the company manufacturing the engine, is a joint venture between British Rolls-Royce and American firm Honeywell.
According to Mr. Demir the hindrance in the issuance of the export license for the engine is not the only issue, and according to him, “There are other components the Americans can refuse to issue export licenses for.” This means that without the mitigation of the ongoing political tensions between the US and Turkey, Pakistan will not be able to acquire the Atak helicopters.
In January 2020, Pakistan extended the deadline for TAI to deliver the helicopters, but with the sale in jeopardy, the Turkish government tasked Tusas Engine Industries, TAI’s sister company, with developing an indigenous engine for the T129.
Then, Turkey hoped that they might be able to get the engine ready or might even be able to get the export license by January 2021, but no progress has been made.
Since Turkey bought the Russian anti-aircraft missile system, S-400, the US has been pressuring Turkey to abandon the system by freezing all major arms sales to the NATO ally.
The incumbent US government also pulled back requests made to Congress to approve sales to Turkey’s defense procurement agency, the Presidency of Defence Industries, on which the U.S. imposed sanctions in December 2020 in response to the S-400 purchase.
A source told Defense News that “I don’t see that changing. First of all, it’s Turkey. The Hill has not been clearing arms cases for Turkey at all … and the reason is the S-400.”
Additionally, according to the report, Washington is worried that the potential procurement could result in the enhancement of Pakistan’s ground capability against neighbor and US long-term ally India.
When Pakistan was in the market for the new gunships, China also sent its CAIC Z-10 helicopters for trial, but they were rejected by the officials and were returned.
On the inquiry of using the clearance of export of engines to gain influence over Pakistan amid ongoing negotiations with Taliban, the former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad Brian Cloughley was of the opinion that it was unlikely as Pakistan has historically had influence over the Taliban.
According to Mr. Cloughley, there is some concern in Pakistan too, on acquiring equipment relating to the US as in case of hostilities with US ally India, the delivery of equipment could be hindered.
Thus, with so many obstacles in realizing the deal for T129, the solution lies again in Pakistan returning to China, and it is likely that Pakistan Army will evaluate the Chinese Z-10ME attack helicopters.