Is Pakistan Abandoning its Attack Helicopter Deal with Turkey?

During a recent Pakistani Army press conference it seemingly emerged that a contract with Turkey for attack helicopters had been abandoned. The sudden decision goes back on a 2018 contract with Pakistan awarded Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). The contract worth $1.5 billion covers the acquisition of 30 T129 ATAK helicopters. The initial statement has since been corrected with Pakistan’s public relations office denying the collapse of the deal.

Two T129 ATAK helicopters (TUSAŞ)

Major General Babar Iftikhar, a Pakistan Army spokesman, made the announcement on 5 January. At a press conference he reportedly said: “As far as the Turkish deal is concerned, we have moved on.”

The turn around comes as Turkish Aerospace Industries have met obstacles to their delivery due to US sanctions placed on Turkey following Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 A2/AD missile systems. The Turkish defense industry was crippled by a lack of parts and components. Most of the shortages were circumvented by the organization of domestic production of equipment, but some materials and systems do not yet have locally produced alternatives. The US sanctions forced the Light Helicopter Turbine Engine Company, a joint venture of Rolls-Royce and Honeywell, to cease its engines delivery to Turkey. As a result of this decision, the delivery of the helicopters has been impossible to execute. Pakistan agreed on the extension of the delivery date twice in 2021, for a total of 18 months. However, this has not aided the situation and Pakistan still awaits delivery of its aircraft.

With few options to choose from, it seems from Major General Iftikhar’s statement that the government in Islamabad has decided to negotiate a new acquisition deal with its neighbor, the People’s Republic of China. The helicopter deal would be the latest in a long line of purchases from China, Beijing has already previously signed a deal for 25 J-10C jets to Pakistan. The ties established between the states, China’s huge industrial capacitiy, the countries proximity to one another and the absence of US sanctions, that could paralyze the delivery, are positives in a potential deal for a helicopter such as the CAIC Z-10ME.

No details have been release but Pakistan may seek to obtain an identical number of aircraft for $1.5 billion previously reserved for the T129 ATAK helicopters.

A Z-10ME at the China Airshow 2012 (cheng Peng/WZ-10 / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The topic was likely discussed during the recent visit by General Selcuk Bayraktaroglu, the Deputy Chief of Turkish General Staff, to attend the 16th Pak – Turkey High Level Military Dialogue Group (HLMDG) Meeting.

The deal with Turkey, however, may not be dead yet. A statement denying Major General Iftikhar’s intimations from the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistan Army, said:

“While answering a question related to Pakistan’s deal with Turkey for acquiring T-129 ATAK helicopters, the statement made by DG ISPR was misconstrued on some digital media platforms… It is clarified that Pakistan has never ruled out an acquisition of military helicopters from Turkey. All speculations in this regard are baseless.”

It remains to be seen if the deal with Turkey will be abandoned. But if Turkey cannot overcome the impact of the US sanctions then Pakistan’s long-running relationship with China provides a ready alternative.